“How to know if those are Omicron symptoms, or maybe just the common cold,” the Boston Globe teased its readers. The article went on the cite widely reported data from South Africa, Scotland and England showing that the newest COVID strain “more often resulted in mild illness” compared to its earlier counterparts. And it described the most common symptoms as “a runny or stuffy nose, fatigue, cough, and a sore throat…”
“Hey, wait!” my inner voice screamed almost loud enough for everyone within a five-kilometer radius to hear. This is the reason health officials ordered a new lockdown in Manila and confined unvaccinated citizens to their houses? This is the “variant of concern” resulting in a global hysteria that has re-closed borders, disrupted stock markets, returned countless schools to virtual learning, triggered broadened vaccination mandates and prompted US President Joe Biden to predict a “winter of death?”
All to prevent us from getting the sniffles? Wow, I thought, now we have truly reached the height of dystopian surreality. But no, I quickly corrected myself, I’m probably wrong; if history is any guide, we’ll get to even higher peaks of insanity before we finish.
Five weeks ago, I published a column noting Dr. Angelique Coetzee’s consternation at the burgeoning panic caused by her then-recent identification of the new strain. “Their symptoms were so different and so mild from those I had treated before,” Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, said of people suffering from Omicron. “Currently, there’s no reason for panicking as we don’t see severely ill patients. The hype that’s been created,” she concluded, “doesn’t correlate with the clinical picture.”
Nothing’s happened since then to discredit that view. In fact, some researchers say, Omicron may yet prove to be the tool that finally releases humanity from the devastating pandemic that has so rattled and shaped it these past two years.
There are a couple of reasons: first, that it’s already well on its way to becoming the world’s dominant COVID strain. And second, that it likely provides its victims with a natural immunity against other more virulent variants.
“When we look at the totality of the emerging facts,” Dr. Houman David Hemmati, a California-based board-certified ophthalmologist and biomedical research scientist recently wrote, “there is a very real possibility that Omicron could lead us into light instead of darkness.”
His article, published in the Daily Wire last week, bore the headline, appropriately enough, “The Omicron Variant: Mother Nature’s COVID-19 Vaccine?”
“So,” Hemmati concluded, if, as seems likely, “the Omicron variant acts like a live, attenuated COVID vaccine that rapidly spreads in the air, rather than though a needle, we might very well emerge from this holiday season finally facing an end to the deadly phase of pandemic.”
Which recalls the words of another epidemiologist quoted in the very first column I ever wrote on COVID-19 back in March 2020, nearly two years ago. “Most of us will probably get this virus,” he predicted, “and 98-99% of us will be just fine.”
For the record, let me say that I am fully vaccinated and certainly don’t wish to get sick. If I must, however, bring on the Omicron sniffles. That would be far better, I suspect, than any alternative I can think of.
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David Haldane’s latest book is a short-story collection called “Jenny on the Street.” A former Los Angeles Times staff writer, he is an award-winning journalist, author and radio broadcaster currently dividing his time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines, where this column appears weekly in the Mindanao Gold Star News.