By Linus Garg
First publised on 2021-11-27 15:20:48
The B.1.1.529 Covid variant, now named Omicron and classified as a variant of âconcernâ by the WHO, spooked the stock markets worldwide on Friday as South Africa reported a ten-fold increase in fresh Covid infections in November. Indices in India fell by nearly 3% as the Sensex crashed 1687 points to close at 57107 and the Nifty by 509 points to finish the day at 17026.
The biggest worry is that Omicron is showing that the variant has a huge number of mutations and clusters of mutations. This spells fresh trouble for a world already grappling with the virus for nearly two years now. Even as all countries, including India, were thinking of easing norms for international travel in the wake of falling fresh Covid cases (India reported below 9000 cases on Friday, the lowest in more than 18 months, the discovery of this new variant has thrown a spanner in the works.
The business community is worried that if restrictive measures like national, or even local, lockdowns are once again enforced, demand for goods and services will fall once again and supply chains, showing signs of returning to normal, would once again be thrown out of gear. It has taken nearly one year for the economy to limp back to normalcy. Any disruption at this stage would be disastrous.
But governments all over the world cannot take risks. India suffered immensely when the second wave struck due to premature celebration for having warded off the Covid threat and a consequent lowering of the guard. This time the country should not be caught napping. We are likely to miss the vaccination target for giving at least the first dose to the eligible adult population. Hence, all Covid protocols must now be followed with strictness.
The Prime Minister has already asked officials to review their decision to ease international travel restrictions. He has also called for a greater number of samples to be sent for genome sequencing. In the last couple of months, testing has come down drastically in India. It needs to be done on earlier levels again. The vaccination drive must also pick up pace and the Har Ghar Dastak (or door-to-door campaign to vaccinate people) drive must also be strengthened. If people are not coming forward to get jabbed, they must be given the jab at their home as vaccination remains the best shield against the virus. Any laxity is going to spell disaster for the Indian economy.