Holiday season

Staying Safe This Holiday Season | coronavirus pandemic

Whether it’s family reunions for Christmas or the crowds gathering in city centers as the bell tolls at midnight on New Year’s Eve, there are fears that large numbers of people will mix during the period. parties lead to spikes in COVID-19 infections. Indeed, many people who will be celebrating are wondering how to stay safe during the holiday season.

With the new variant, Omicron, showing exponential growth and high transmissibility, there are things you can do to keep yourself and your loved ones safe during this time.

The first line of defense is vaccination. Although vaccines appear to be less effective in preventing infection with Omicron, they still offer significant protection against a severe form of the disease which may require hospitalization. So if you haven’t been vaccinated, now is the perfect time to do so. And if you’re immunocompromised or at risk, a booster shot can help boost your immunity against the virus.

While the wealthiest countries have at least 70% of their population vaccinated and are rushing to offer boosters, low-income countries have not even been able to vaccinate all their health workers and the most vulnerable populations. risk. Vaccines have not been shared equitably, which the World Health Organization says leaves us open to the emergence of new variants, which could undermine our current health tools and lead to new waves of viruses.

Nationalism and the hoarding of vaccines by some countries undermined equity and created the ideal conditions for the emergence of the Omicron variant in a region with low vaccination coverage.

Perhaps this holiday season we can reflect on the injustice of vaccine inequality and increase public pressure on governments and manufacturers to do more to share licenses and transfer technology and knowledge. -do, in particular with the new WHO-led mRNA Technology Transfer Centers, the first of which has been established in South Africa. In the midst of the worst pandemic in 100 years, it seems ridiculous that all initiatives, including access to intellectual property, have not been shared.

While vaccination is crucial to fight the pandemic, it is not enough. The last two years have been difficult and although we are tired of the pandemic, the virus is not tired of us. While seeing loved ones is essential for our mental and physical health, gathering large crowds is where the virus can be particularly prolific. We’re starting to see examples of airplanes, nightclubs, and even hotel quarantines where the Omicron variant is spreading more effectively than ever.

The new variant appears to be the most transmissible to date and able to break through vaccine protection more easily than Delta or other variants that precede it. Although immunity conferred not only by antibodies but also by B and T cells (which are more difficult to measure) reduces the risk of serious illness and death, it is clear that the threat remains and health measures public and social services remain essential tools to reduce the number of infections.

Since COVID-19 is a respiratory virus, which spreads mainly through the air via aerosols (small droplets) and larger droplets, it is important to know how to best protect yourself. By talking, singing, and even just breathing, people with COVID-19 can easily transmit the virus to others. Obviously, the closer you are and the more time you spend with a sick person, the more likely you are to contract the virus.

Viral transmission is further optimized in indoor settings where windows and doors are closed, ventilation is poor, and people are not wearing masks. When cases increase, it is still possible to work and connect on digital platforms, but I understand the fatigue of using video-sharing platforms for far too many aspects of our lives. We often need this physical connection for all aspects of our health.

And it is possible to minimize the risks and protect yourself and your loved ones. For example, if you are going to meet friends or family, try to do so outside and in as small a group as possible. If it’s indoors, try to keep the windows open so there’s a steady exchange of outside air. If it is too cold, open them regularly to circulate fresh air. Good quality, well-fitting masks worn correctly can really help reduce infection and the latest evidence suggests that universal mask wearing can significantly reduce the risk of infection. In fact, masks have been described as a vaccine in your pocket and the WHO has detailed guidelines on how to make high quality masks.

All eligible people should get vaccinated as soon as possible. However, even if you are vaccinated and do your best to stay safe, Omicron is still so transmissible that you could come into contact with the virus at some point. If you start to experience symptoms, it’s important to get tested as soon as possible. While waiting for the results, try to isolate yourself from others so you can break the chain of transmission.

The importance of early detection is also linked to the effectiveness of the treatment given, so the sooner people know if they are sick, the easier it is to determine when they should be treated or if they should be hospitalized. Fortunately, new oral treatments that reduce the severity of COVID-19 are becoming available.

Festive seasons are tough to navigate during a pandemic, but thanks to vaccinations and public health measures, there are ways to minimize risk while still spending time with loved ones. As this year ends and another begins, I am more optimistic than ever that if governments and citizens work together, we can get through the acute phase of this pandemic together and use this momentum to lift others up. challenges of our time.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

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