The nature of the beast

Last year, on this date, a nagging questioning was on everyone’s lips: “Can we save Christmas?” “Excited by the weary train of the effects of the pandemic and shot down by confinement, Quebecers were imposed in 2020 on a holiday” diet “, with a list of restrictions. Could they imagine that a year later, a variant named Omicron would bring the same question up to date: what will remain of Christmas (bis)?

Nervous since the first cases of Omicron variant infection were exposed, governments around the world have found themselves facing a heinous challenge: to govern in uncertainty. The difference from winter 2020 is significant: they have acquired experience and know that, when too many unknown variables appear with a possible impact on the health of populations, they must err on the side of caution.

The decision-makers are therefore putting on their balancing shoes again. Here they are still having to deal, on the one hand, with the weariness of the population eager for true normality and, on the other, with the tenacity of an indefatigable virus. Let us take it for granted: these mutations in the virus which force adapted reactions from countries and their citizens, this is the real “normal” to which we will have to get used to. This last episode of mutation – without a shadow of a doubt not the last – in fact only reflects the natural evolution of the virus.

The assumptions add up, but it is better for now to hang on to the facts. Monday, the press conference of the Minister of Health, Christian Dubé, revealed important data to remember. They confirm the seriousness of the case and trace the path to prevention. A first case of the Omicron variant has been confirmed in Quebec; the experts will be unable to certify the effects of the variant on contagiousness and vaccination coverage for a few more weeks; 10 million rapid tests will be made available in Quebec by the holiday season; sequencing and screening will be restarted to detect virus variants more quickly.

It is not known for the moment which side of the scale, positive or negative, will lean the evolution of Omicron. But with the limited information available, it is wise not to succumb to panic while focusing on a cautious attitude and strong preventive gestures. As soon as the confirmation of a new variant first detected in South Africa, Canada decided to close its borders to certain African countries, in addition to imposing health measures on entry into the country of certain travelers. – it was at Montreal-Trudeau airport that the Quebec case was spotted. Three cases are known in Canada, four others are examined by Public Health and 115 travelers are under close surveillance. The tightness of the borders will be decisive in the coming days.

The authorities are careful not to forge hypotheses on the fog, but one noted in Africa a strong transmissibility of Omicron, stronger even than Delta – which itself supplanted Alpha in the matter. Optimists dream of true collective immunity: if Omicron were more contagious, but caused fewer symptoms, it might be a sign that virulence is waning with mutations. However, there is nothing to confirm this track.

In the absence of certainty, the World Health Organization first said it was “concerned”, then clarified that “Omicron presents a very high risk” on a global scale. US President Joe Biden said this variant was “a matter of concern, but not of panic.” Gathered exceptionally yesterday, the health ministers of the G7 countries recognized “the threat of a new and possibly very contagious variant of COVID-19” requiring “urgent action”. To varying degrees around the world, countries have responded swiftly by reaffirming the importance of the vaccine, health measures and border control.

The wait-and-see approach is indeed not an option when attacking a long-distance runner like the coronavirus. Even without a clear answer on the nature of the beast, especially with regard to its ability to thwart the vaccine, we must continue the vaccination campaign in our country both among the youngest, over-represented in the infection curves of the last few weeks. in Quebec, than among citizens whose vaccination period requires the booster dose. This is a space where efforts must be concentrated.

The Minister of Health promises that he will fix the fate of Christmas on December 6, when we know more. But behind his healthy insistence on encouraging “controlled” meetings rather than private gatherings, observers may have sensed an omen of the announcements to come. Christmas under the bell, one more year.

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