I’m not in a great mood this morning considering South Africa has been made a pariah state overnight for being transparent and countries are quickly shutting borders once again. My point is not to downplay or dismiss the new “Nu” variant of COVID-19 but to beg that we put this in perspective and act not simply quickly, but smartly.
“Nu” COVID-19 Variant – Nothing New Under The Sun
Headlines around the world are warning of a “vaccine resistant super strain” that has been discovered in South Africa. First, it is way too early to know that. Second, even a new strain with sufficient mutations to render current vaccines less efficacious is not the end of the story: Germany’s BioNTech SE, which worked with Pfizer to develop the most-used COVID-19 vaccine in the world, is already on it and will know the answer in two weeks. If necessary, BioNTech can create a new vaccine adjusted to the variant in six week and ship it shortly thereafter.
The European Union has called for an immediate ban on flights to South Africa. God Save The Points points out that many countries are punishing South Africa for doing the right thing by being transparent and not even balancing it with greater access to vaccines or debt relief. Sadly, by punitive actions like shutting down all air traffic, countries that are trying to do the right thing are incentivized to hold back information.
The tourism-reliant South African economy has been hurt so much during the pandemic. Shutdowns have crippled local economies and the unemployment in South Africa has worsened to 34%.
And now this.
“Thanks for letting us know. Now we are going to block you.”
And I’m not saying that is not a right approach. Ultimately, a nation must protect its citizens first or it ceases to be a nation. Lockdowns buy us time…as much as I hate them, they serve a useful function and should not be summarily dismissed when so much uncertainty exists.
But make no mistake: the “Nu” strain is already in our midst. It has been identified in Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong. The case in Israel is from a traveler who was not even in South Africa, but Malawai.
If you think it is not already in the United States, you just wait and see as flights between the U.S. and South Africa go out packed every single day, not to mention connecting traffic though other parts in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East.
This new strain has already eclipsed the delta variant as the dominant strain in South Africa. New cases have jumped from about 300 per day to 2,465. That’s a big jump and the death count, still low, will start to rise.
In terms of our vaccine debate, we’ll soon see vaccine advocates saying, “See, this is what happens when selfish people refuse to be vaccinated” and anti-vaccine folks saying, “See, the vaccines are worthless and even work to weaken protection against new variants.” (for the record, I don’t put theses positions on equal footing)
And I actually don’t want to debate that today here or in the comments section, but merely note the reactions around the world to this new variant will divide us further.
So now you understand why I’m not in a great mood. Still, we should not panic. Mutations and new strains have always been part of the plan. We will figure this out.
I can speak only as a traveler here, but I view the move to effectively punish South Africa for doing the right thing a very questionable approach. While ignoring it is also not the answer, we are fooling ourselves if we think “Nu” is not already with us. When that is confirmed (give it a few days to a week), are we going to shut down worldwide travel again? To what end?
Folks, remember the headlines with the delta variant? They were the same. Don’t panic this morning. We’ll get through this.