Omicron: Better to be safe (and quick) than sorry


PTI, Dec 6, 2021, 9:28 AM IST

On discovering the omicron variant, many countries moved quickly to impose travel restrictions and other public health measures, such as compulsory mask wearing. But, given the lack of data, is this the best course of action? These measures have tangible costs, and some have argued that they are an over-reaction. Critics of the travel ban claim that new measures will not significantly prevent the spread of the variant. Indeed, World Health Organisation (WHO) officials have urged countries not to hastily impose travel curbs, instead advocating a risk analysis and science-based approach.

Others suggest that the harms of the variant should not be overplayed, given the reports of relatively mild illness so far. Still, scientific advisers in the UK warn that omicron may require a “very stringent response”.

Throughout the pandemic, policymakers have been confronted with the issue of how to manage uncertainty. The emergence of the omicron variant is yet another example of this.

One problem with the WHO’s suggestion of adopting a solely science-based approach to policy in this area is that our scientific understanding is currently limited. There is still significant uncertainty about the impact the variant will have on infections and hospitalisations, as well as the effectiveness of current vaccines, tests and treatment.

Although trials are underway to investigate these matters, gathering evidence will take time. At the moment, it is difficult to precisely quantify the risks we face.

Policymakers face a dilemma. If they choose to wait for further data so they can make a fully evidence-based decision, it may be too late for any imposed policies to have a significant benefit.

If they choose to impose restrictions now, their policies have more chance of mitigating the harm of a variant. But such an approach may be accused of lacking a solid evidence base, and we may later find that the restrictive policies were unnecessary if the variant is not as bad as first feared.

Not a scientific issue The question of how we should manage uncertainty is not a scientific issue, it is an ethical issue of how we should balance different “moral costs”. Imposing public health restrictions early has tangible costs on individual liberty and wellbeing.

Travel bans have economic implications and may damage international solidarity. These costs are all the more galling if data later shows that they were not truly necessary. Yet these restrictions could be scaled back once the evidence suggests that it is safe to do so.

In contrast, delaying restrictions could have even more significant costs. If a more transmissible variant is allowed to go unchecked, this will lead to a significant spike in infections. In turn, it would lead to more people suffering severe outcomes from COVID – the extent depending on whether current vaccines have reduced protection against omicron.

To protect healthcare systems from such a wave of seriously ill people, it may become necessary to impose even more restrictive and far-ranging policies that go beyond mask-wearing and travel restrictions. It may also be necessary to impose them for a longer period. The costs of such policies to liberty and wellbeing may be far higher than those currently in place, and they may have other social harms, for instance, if they involve interruptions to education.

We are also now far enough into the pandemic to have made mistakes that we ought to learn from. The UK government was roundly criticised for the slowness of its initial pandemic response, including the absence of border measures. If we are interested in safeguarding individual liberty in the long term, saving lives and preserving trust in our policymaking institutions, then it is better to act now.

(By Dominic Wilkinson, Consultant Neonatologist and Professor of Ethics, University of Oxford; and Jonathan Pugh, Research Fellow in Applied Moral Philosophy, University of Oxford Oxford UK)

Udayavani is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel and stay updated with the latest news.

Top News

Over 27k police personnel deployed for R-Day security, says Delhi Police chief

Attempts were made to erase contributions of many, mistakes being corrected now: PM Modi after unveiling Netaji’s hologram statue

Kaup: Youth seriously injured in lorry-motorbike collision at Muloor

Ex-Japan PM Shinzo Abe honoured with Netaji Award

UAE bans private drones after deadly attack on Abu Dhabi

B’luru: Senior Kannada journalist killed in a lorry-bike accident

Mangaluru: Police demand thousands in parking fines, Scooter owner cries foul


Related Articles More

Australia approves two new medicines in the fight against COVID. How can you get them and are they effective against Omicron

Omicron: Cutting isolation period doesn’t make sense

Sputnik V Covid vaccine shows higher Omicron-specific antibodies than Pfizer: Study

Heart ailment causes early brain dysfunction, can treble key protein that triggers Alzheimer’s

New AI model helps discover genetic risk factors for motor neurone disease

MUST WATCH

NEWS BULLETIN 23-01-2022

No Road Facility at Holekudige village

HISTORY OF BARKUR’S KATTALE BASADI

M’luru: Car trailer falls into roadside ditch near Thokkottu; traffic affected

THIEF FALLS OFF FROM THE BUILDING WHILE ESCAPING


Latest Additions

Over 27k police personnel deployed for R-Day security, says Delhi Police chief

Attempts were made to erase contributions of many, mistakes being corrected now: PM Modi after unveiling Netaji’s hologram statue

Kaup: Youth seriously injured in lorry-motorbike collision at Muloor

Ex-Japan PM Shinzo Abe honoured with Netaji Award

UP polls: BJP MLA Jitendra Verma resigns from party days after being denied ticket

Thanks for visiting Udayavani

You seem to have an Ad Blocker on.
To continue reading, please turn it off or whitelist Udayavani.