OMICRON is causing very real concern and more in Metro Manila Plus as it is in many other Asian cities like Hong Kong. In the latter, restrictions are back to what they were at the height when I was last there in January a year ago. In some cases, even worse, especially with regard to flights and transit passengers through Hong Kong. No dine in after 6 p.m., just take out. No gyms, spas and so on. Quarantine requirements have also gotten stricter. By contrast, Singapore and Thailand are concerned but taking it in stride. Even more so in the US. There are more cases, much concern, but no new restrictions. I am in New York and watched "Tosca" at the Metropolitan Opera on Saturday, the Nets play the Spurs on Sunday and the Philadelphia Orchestra on Thursday. They are limited to fully vaccinated or for the Nets that or an antigen test immediately before the game.

There have been several articles here in the US on why Omicron is this way instead of that way. I already wrote about that last week. Recently, there have been more articles on why the federal government and even various state and local governments have a concerned but more balanced attitude toward Omicron compared to even last fall's Delta wave. Why? It is not like there aren't more cases and while not proportionate more hospitalizations. Though steady and minimal, some ICU cases and deaths from the fully vaccinated.

Here is a list of some of the articles that have informed my reading. From January 8 of the New Yorker – "How soon will Covid be 'normal'?" ; January 2 on MSNBC.com – "Covid vaccines and new Covid treatments ought to make 2022 the end of the pandemic"; January 8 from the New York Times – "How Biden and Boris Johnson reached the same place on virus policy"; and from the same paper on January 6 – "Here's when we expect Omicron to peak." From Bloomberg on January 7 – "Citi confronts vaccine holdouts in no jab, no job mandate." On January 11 from the New York Times as well – "Over half of Europe could be infected in next two months, WHO says." From Epoch Times and Faux News – "Why I believe in quack medicine!" and "Ivermectin, it deworms horses, it will de-brain you" — every day. Last one is a joke but not far from the real policy and thinking of the lunatic and anti-vax right.

Struggling

From what I gather from friends and reading the news, Omicron is causing major disruption in Metro Manila, and many are testing positive with symptoms ranging from none to mild for most of the vaccinated. I don't need to repeat what my readers see and experience. I do see that some anti-vaxxers have relented. Whether forced or voluntary, I don't know, but happy they have done so. From afar, it seems to me like the IATF and MMDA are struggling with balancing between their tried and relatively futile and short-effect lockdowns and not much more strategy given the need to keep the economy going. We really can't afford much more emergency borrowing and spending. Frankly, I don't think they had any major strategy except primarily lockdown and eventually, vaccination. Bad as the situation is, I hope like in South Africa, it will be a relatively fast albeit intense wave. Also think how much worse it would have been if we didn't push vaccinations, delayed and haphazard as that may have been.

It is clear from the January 10 article on Bloomberg, "Singapore breaks down Covid deaths by vaccine, with Moderna seeing lowest rate," that based on the admittedly limited sample size of Singapore the mRNA vaccines are not just superior, but in another class. Eight hundred two died of Covid in 2021 in Singapore. Of that 555, or 70 percent, were not vaccinated. "Singapore found 11 deaths per 100,000 among people who received Sinovac shots and 7.8 deaths among those with Sinopharm. This number fell to 6.2 deaths for those with mRNA shots from Pfizer/Bio-N-Tech and 1 fatality per 100,000 for those who were administered the vaccines from Moderna." I can see the armchair critics up in arms saying why did we push Sinovac and so on and Cut and Paste looking up back issues of Epoch Times and the like and regretting his conversion whether forced or legitimate to Covid sanity. The point was some vaccination was better than none and thanks to some people supposedly taking their time and being bureaucratic about securing Pfizer vaccines early on, we had to make do with what vaccines were available. Just like in Indonesia and other Third World countries, China was the only major producer making vaccines available. The Serum Institute of India was supposed to mass export AstraZeneca vaccines, but they were embargoed for domestic use and the Western countries were largely keeping the supply they paid for in advance to themselves. That was much to the WHO's lament on vaccine hoarding and frankly, Omicron is at least partly a result of that. As has been said, "No one is safe until all of us are safe." This has sadly been proven with Delta and Omicron.

Growing gap

What is happening here in the US? Surprisingly, a bipolar Omicron. As of January 11, using a 14-day average, cases are up over 184 percent and hospitalizations up 84 percent and deaths up 40 percent. That is high but declining from even a day before and week before. But why bipolar? In the January 11 issue of the New York Times, a report titled "A Growing Gap" said that they analyzed the detailed data from Seattle and New York City as they are available. Infections are up modestly among the vaccinated in both cities but substantially more for those not fully vaccinated which is the exact term they use. They have gone from less than about 50 per 100,000 for the not fully vaccinated and about 30 for the vaccinated before Omicron to now a few hundred per 100,000 for the vaccinated in New York to over 3,000 per 100,000 for the not fully vaccinated. A tenfold difference. Same results at lower levels for Seattle. Then for hospitalizations, nearly none and remaining flat for the vaccinated in NY, modestly up for the same in Seattle. For the not fully vaccinated, up from about 10 per 100,000 in NY to 80. For Seattle, also flat for the vaccinated with an average of 1 or 2 per 100,000 but not fully vaccinated going from about 3 to 10. For deaths, a tiny number less than 0.5 per 100,000 in both New York and Seattle and staying that way for the fully vaccinated and rising from 2 to over 4 in NY and staying around 1 in Seattle for the not fully vaccinated. Clearly, the increase is not that severe though nothing to be blasé about. But a real gap between the fully vaccinated and the not fully vaccinated. Though note only a small percentage in the US got J&J/Janssen vaccines which is a traditional one like Astra, Sinovac and Sinopharm. Most got Pfizer or Moderna which are mRNA. The results for other countries which have a mix of vaccines may be divergent like those shown in Singapore where a mix was used.

Given Covid fatigue and the beneficial effects of being fully vaccinated and now even boosted, the US is basically leaving it to states and cities to decide what to do. Most of the sane ones like New York and California are restricting access to most discretionary places like restaurants, gyms, movies, performing arts and sports arenas to the fully vaccinated. The talk is not so much about restrictions but just restricting the unvaccinated.

The lesson for us is we had to, thanks to various reasons, scramble and vaccinate with what was available. That was and remains better than nothing. Clearly, we must concentrate on re-vaccinating with mRNA vaccines going forward and restricting the recalcitrant anti-vaxxers now that vaccines are available. Don't think there is tolerance or justification for more of what we saw in 2020 and 2021. That can be seen in the reluctance to go back to draconian quarantines, which I take as positive even if the reasons may not be salutary. I just wish we spent more of the last two years adjusting, calibrating and improving than we did. It only costs lives and livelihood. It still does and will continue to.

P.S. I was reading the New York Times article on the Djokovic contretemps and had to quote this great line about the Australian prime minister which to me, perfectly describes nearly the entire Philippine political environment: "Sean Kelly, a former Labor Party adviser and the author of a new Morrison biography, The Game, said the prime minister had a habit of overdramatizing the trivial and being passive with bigger challenges."