World must unite to make third year the charm

Health workers administer COVID-19 tests in Xi'an, Northwest China's Shaanxi province, Jan 2, 2022. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

Xi'an is still fighting its COVID-19 outbreak. As of Saturday, the city in Northwest China had reported a total of 1,573 locally transmitted COVID-19 infections, with the inflection point still to be reached, according to experts.

The origin of the outbreak and how long it has been circulating around the city are still unknown. And medical authorities in Xi'an said at a news conference on Sunday that the city's outbreak is still at an "intensive" stage. Other regions in China are being urged to enhance their prevention and control measures as the Spring Festival holiday approaches.

2022 marks the third year in which the world is battling with the novel coronavirus, and there seems no light at the end of the tunnel. Although the outbreak in Xi'an is the Delta variant of the virus, it is now the highly transmissible Omicron variant that is causing the most concern as infections spike around the world.

Daily new infections are hitting record highs worldwide, with an average of more than 1 million cases detected each day between Dec 24 and 30. Europe, the pandemic's epicenter in recent months, crossed 100 million known cases on Saturday, with governments there deeply concerned about the possibility of healthcare systems being overwhelmed by an increasing number of patients.

In the United States, a "vertical increase" of new cases-now averaging 400,000 cases a day-has gone "well beyond anything we've seen before", according to the country's top infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci. The World Health Organization has warned of "a tsunami of cases" in the days to come.

Yet despite the dire situation, "narrow nationalism and vaccine hoarding" continue to hinder efforts to bring the virus under control, creating ideal conditions for the virus to continue mutating. "The longer inequity persists, the greater the chance of the virus changing in ways we can't predict," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Having said that, it is not all doom and gloom, the extended vaccination drive in many countries, in addition to the experience accumulated in the handling of COVID-19 such as in testing and treatment, means that the world is now in a much stronger position than it was at the end of 2020. The fact that the Omicron variant, though more contagious, appears to be far less lethal compared with other variants, could win scientists more time as they try to find ways to finally beat the coronavirus.

Nonetheless, the world still faces an onerous challenge in terms of containing the spread of the virus while keeping economic and social life as normal as possible. Countries, rather than politicizing the health crisis and pointing accusing fingers at one another, must work together to address this common threat to life, health and liberty. The Omicron variant has reinforced the lesson, which the world urgently needs to heed, that "no one is safe until we are all safe".