By Riham Darwish
Shortly after vaccine news revived hopes of an end to the COVID-19 outbreak which had been spreading chaos and devastating businesses across the world, the UK has recently announced a new variation of the virus, keeping the world on its toes waiting for medical experts to reassure them that 2021 will not repeat the hard times humanity has gone through during 2020.
Most world countries had been gearing up for a soon return to “business as usual” in a few weeks after several pharmaceutical companies celebrated the success of their vaccines in combating the novel coronavirus. However, the new variation reported in the UK has put the positive vibes on hold as we wait for data on whether vaccines already in use will have the same impact on the newly mutated virus.
So far, medical experts have been trying to identify the major differences between the COVID19 we have been trying to stop for almost a year, and between the new reported variation. Even though initial data is pointing at a less fatal virus, the new strain is reportedly 70% more infectious, which is causing global concern and questions over what should be done to prevent the spread of COVID19’s new version.
Following the news, many countries have temporarily banned travel to and from the UK, where the new variation has been generating, including Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, in addition to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Jordan, and others.
This unexpected development driving oil and currencies’ prices down coincides with the long-awaited holiday season that was supposed to boost sales and travel movement, especially in the US and the UK where vaccines have already been distributed to the public.
In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia has also been distributing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine while Christmas celebrations have been made public in a rare scene in the kingdom that hopes to become a new popular touristic destination. Yet, all of these plans seem to fall into disarray because of the new medical warnings.
While it remains unclear whether the vaccines used now to control the spread of COVID19 are going to have the same effect on the new variation, officials in the different parts of the world have to decide whether or not they should consider a new series of local and international movement restrictions; measures that could have a severe impact on the global economy that has not yet recovered from the 2020 blow.
Over the past few months, countries in the MENA and elsewhere have been laying the ground for the post-COVID19 life, encouraging economic activities and announcing different programs to boost domestic tourism, attract visitors and foreign investors.
Despite the current blurry vision, decision-makers should now be assessing the effectiveness of lockdown decisions they made during 2020, and examine whether or not it is the right approach to deal with the worst-case scenario.