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Coronavirus

It’s Me Again. Now I’m Called Omicron

I’ve travelled the world for two years and made great connections. Change is good!

Andrew Nikiforuk 30 Nov 2021TheTyee.ca

Tyee contributing editor Andrew Nikiforuk is an award-winning journalist whose books and articles focus on epidemics, the energy industry, nature and more.

You probably thought that I was finishing up. Or took a long vacation to drink mojitos. No such luck. Last year, when I invited you, my good hosts, to meet my blessed variants, I smiled broadly at your puzzlement and shock.

So here I am again. Your favorite evolutionary anarchist. Changed, and ever changing.

And now a “variant of concern” with your new Transformer toy-like name Omicron, with, count them, 50 mutations and possibilities you cannot yet fathom.

My blessed relative Delta had but 20 changes. And neither of us are Greek, but that joke is on you. Did you know there are 24 characters in the Greek alphabet? We’re getting pretty far along, aren’t we?

Let me, the undead, now be serious for a moment.

The longer you allow me to persist, the more opportunities I will find to improve my fitness.

And to my eternal delight, you continue to embolden me with abandon. Fewer than 10 per cent of the peoples of Africa have been vaccinated. Only 46 per cent in the Middle East. And so on.

Even a modest virus knows that such inequity will always have biological consequences and provide more breeding ground for more blessed variants. So, my blessings upon your species.

You now cling to so many fictions about me that even I, a mere speck in the immensity of the viral complex, cannot fully appreciate all the implications.

Incredibly, most of you still think my kingdom evolves inevitably to a state of grace where I shed my virulence and ability to kill and abandon my cleverness at escaping your vaccines. Instead, the more hosts I pass through, whether healthy or sick, the stronger I become.

Yet you exercise so little humility and caution. You pretend that the vaccinated cannot transmit and spread my kind. You deny the reality of rising transmission as the secret of my exponential success.

And I thought I was a sardonic nihilist?

Many of your leaders, killers like myself, declared the pandemic over, as though your kind were in charge and could make an alternative reality.

How is that working for you? Are your hospitals back to fully functioning? Aren’t you weary of me yet?

No matter. Why should I release you from such errant thinking?

This persistent denial of the risks that come with social complexity represents your unique blindness as a species. And I remain its ever-grateful beneficiary.

There’s a cinematic memory, or what you call a movie clip that I like. One of your movie stars, I believe his name is Tom Cruise, plays a killer. He is determined not to be stopped and caught. Here, watch with me as he lays it out: “Now we gotta make the best of it. Improvise. Adapt to the environment. Darwin. Shit happens. I Ching, whatever man. We gotta roll with it.”

Well, that’s me. Just the latest variant of the killer you call severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-two, rolling with it. Whatever, man!

I am moving around your planet effortlessly thanks to your highly connected travel networks. My appreciation, like your airlines, knows no bounds.

So many billions of potential hosts, and so many unbelievers. Admit it. Time is on my side.

It’s been two years now. The number of lives I have snuffed out is probably 10 million. Those who keep your official tally prefer 5.2 million (you even are in denial about the death toll).

As a consequence, my kind has adopted a new saying in your honour: Blessed is the rich global host who believes in uninterrupted and constant long-range travel, for their connective networks will bring my brethren to every doorstep.

Let me express my deep gratitude, too, for ignoring people such as Yaneer Bar-Yam and Deepti Gurdasani.

These intolerant people are no friends of mine. Gurdasani, one of your whitecoats, points out: “When there is a potential threat, it’s important to respond early, in line with its potential, until we understand more. That’s not alarmist. It’s basic pandemic response.”

Basic pandemic response? No, I do not like the sound of that. Had you pounced early and assertively I might not still be rolling on. These people are so unkind they even argued for relentless measures to achieve my elimination.

Fortunately, nobody listened. Why act early? Why lower transmission? Why test and trace? Why wear those annoying masks? Why ventilate when you can bask in my eternal presence? Why truly aim to "get to zero?”

And now, here I am, Omicron, quite happy to offer you another drink of hopium if it helps me get on with my work. If it further allows me to move through the alphabet, and beyond to some greater relevation.

You don’t remember, but the plague of Athens lasted five years.

Maybe with your blessed help, I can beat that honourable record. Maybe, someday, I will be remembered as the forever plague?

I confess to chuckling as I eavesdrop on your whitecoats’ conversations about the future and where this is all headed, because your kind thinks it can design anything.

(Take it from me, the undead: you are not the designer of this world, and only the present matters.)

The future worriers claim I have but three paths forward.

The first — and your whitecoats call this scenario “the most worrisome” — is “a future with ongoing manifestations of severe disease combined with high levels of infection that, in turn, could foster further evolution of the virus.”

Your words, not mine.

There is a second path. I appear like a wave of influenza every winter.

Yet how many times must I remind your confused whitecoats that I am not a member of the orthomyxoviridae family? I am no flu.

And then the third: I become another harmless cold.

What hubris. Nobody knows these answers. Not even me.

Of one truth, however, you can be sure. I am the wind, and you are the sand.  [Tyee]

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