The last few months of the year 2020 were marked by a sense of hope and relief, with major developments in the field of medicine aimed at ending the COVID-19 pandemic after a devastating year. People looked forward to returning to their ordinary lives and familiar routines from 2019, which now feels like a whole other lifetime. Most first-world countries began rolling out their vaccination programmes in December 2020, aiming to vaccinate a majority of their population by the end of 2021, however, they encountered countless challenges. Clinical trials and the refusal of citizens to get vaccinated hindered progress. On the other hand, and in the other hemisphere, Australia and New Zealand successfully overcame the pandemic before an inoculation drive was in sight for the island countries. Effective lockdown measures, closing the international borders completely, along with a cooperative populace, helped these two nations achieve what the rest of the world now aims to achieve: freedom. But how do we accomplish that? Would vaccinating everyone be sufficient? Is it too soon to get rid of the masks? These questions remain unanswered.
This year brought with it several positive changes with regard to how societies shall function in the coming future, with many countries easing travel and quarantine restrictions for those who are fully vaccinated. The United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced its decision on May 16th to ease restrictions for people who have been fully vaccinated and skip masks and social-distancing measures in public. The incredible announcement comes as the country aims to entice its citizens to get immunised at the earliest opportunity, in the hopes of living a normal life. Soon after this announcement, photos and videos of people swarming public places surfaced all over social media, showcasing people living life as they were before the wrath of COVID-19 had consumed the US, making it one of the worst-hit countries in the world, reporting hundreds of thousands of cases every day. While some people have welcomed the move, celebrating this newly-found independence to socialise and dine out, others have been less enthusiastic about the regulations, claiming it would be difficult to trace who is vaccinated, including children below the age of 12 who are yet to qualify for the inoculation drive. Moreover, they point out that it might just be too early to return to normalcy.
Many EU member states, as well as the UK, which was hit with a new variant of the virus late last year, have now eased a lot of their restrictions and have even allowed travelling abroad. Australia and New Zealand were the first to witness a stress-free, post-pandemic lifestyle, albeit within their closed borders, for over a year. Cross-border travelling between the two neighbours only resumed in May 2021 after serious consideration, which could again change any day given the recent rise in community-transmitted cases reported in Australia.
While half the world has found a way to move forward towards a more liberal way of living, the other half - specifically the third world countries - is still struggling to find a way to cope with their deteriorating situation. The virus, like any other, has the potential of mutating and evolving with time, which has so far resulted in deadlier variants such as the South African variant, the Indian variant, and the newly evolved triple variant found in the UK which has recently invited new travel and quarantine restrictions by neighbouring nations such as Germany. With the rise of these new variants every couple of months, the dire need for the state authorities to curb the infection and death rate remains a priority and the freedom to travel and socialise freely continues to be uncertain for people globally.
Another instance could be that of Seychelles which witnessed a surge in the COVID-19 infections in the past few weeks, despite being the only country with over 60 per cent of its population fully vaccinated against the deadly virus, thanks to the eased restrictions with regards to both tourism and daily regime in the country. Even though the health authorities have reiterated that people could still contract the infection and that the vaccines only prevent a trip to the hospital and reduce the risk of serious illness, a sudden outpour in the infections is bound to stress an island nation.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently proposed a solution to end the Covid-19 pandemic, strongly suggesting a coordinated global action which would require fully vaccinating at least 40 per cent of the population of all countries by the end of 2021 and at least 60 per cent by the first half of 2022. The report also calls for a need to focus on countries deprived of basic medical necessities required to fight the pandemic effectively by providing major financial aids and proposing systemic supply chains to procure and export medical resources.
What is abundantly clear is that the pandemic is far from being over: unless every single individual, including children, is immunised, and is frequently tested for the virus. Even when it is “officially” over, mankind needs to learn from its mistakes and its unhygienic ways of life which undoubtedly assisted the horrific disease to infect millions worldwide and mutate into deadlier variants. Above all, global unified action is the need of the hour to ensure and assist mass testing and vaccination programmes for all countries, specifically those nations that have the most cases of infections and the least percentage of people receiving proper medical care.
Written by Shubhangi Misra
Shubhangi Misra is a columnist at DecipherGrey.