President Joe Biden says Omicron, the new Covid variant discovered last week in South Africa, is a cause for concern but not panic. But his rush to block air travel from several countries in southern Africa on Friday would seem to be just that – panic.
The stock market responded by dropping over 900 points, the worst day of the year and the worst Black Friday on record. Fortunately, cooler heads began to prevail on Monday as the market regained about a quarter of the losses. The World Health Organization didn’t help matters when they warned Monday that the new variant poses “a very high risk.” Yet the truth is we have very little information that suggests such alarmism is indicated.
South African doctors say Omicron cases they’ve seen are milder and cause different symptoms, notably fatigue. Many are young people who might be expected to have milder symptoms. But breakthrough infections have also been mild. “I don’t think it will blow over but I think it will be a mild disease hopefully,” said South African Medical Association chair Angelique Coetzee. “For now, we are confident we can handle it.”
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said Sunday the country won’t impose a lockdown or increase restrictions. “When we encountered previous waves of infection, vaccines were not widely available and far fewer people were vaccinated,” he noted. “We also know that the coronavirus will be with us for the long term. We must therefore find ways of managing the pandemic while limiting disruptions to the economy and ensuring continuity.” No panic in those words.
Fortunately, Biden said new lockdowns aren’t being considered, at least at the federal level. But leave it to the state of New York to miss the memo. New York Governor Kathy Hochul, successor to disgraced former governor Andrew Cuomo, invoked Omicron to declare a disaster emergency that will let the state suspend elective procedures at hospitals if their staffed-bed capacity falls below 10%.
The Wall Street Journal says the real “disaster” is her mandate requiring that healthcare workers be vaccinated. Hochul has refused to allow even religious exemptions to her mandate. In September she issued an executive order that would allow the National Guard to fill staffing shortages at hospitals and nursing homes if needed. By mid-October, the state reported that 4,100 unvaccinated workers were put on furlough or unpaid leave, 3,100 had been fired and another 1,300 quit or retired. That’s a loss of 8,500 hospital or nursing home staff by order of the governor. Now she has a real emergency on her hands!
The result is postponement of all elective surgical procedures, which represent a crucial source of hospital revenue. Just like her predecessor, Ms. Hochul is defending her destructive vaccine mandate while compensating for its unintended harm with another destructive policy. What is it about government officials that makes them lose their minds when they get authority to control the lives of others?
Some help has come from the saner judicial branch of our government. A federal judge halted the Biden Administration’s vaccine mandate for health workers at hospitals that receive federal funding. The ruling applies to 10 states that sued to block the November 5 rule. Judge Matthew Schelp wrote, “The scale falls clearly in favor of healthcare facilities operating with some unvaccinated employees, staff, trainees, students, volunteers and contractors, rather than the swift, irremediable impact of requiring healthcare facilities to choose between two undesirable choices – providing substandard care or providing no healthcare at all.”
WSJ sums up the situation: “Lockdowns don’t stop the virus, and vaccine mandates are hurting hospitals. The Omicron variant is no excuse for more of either one.” South Africa, where the new virus variant was discovered, is not in a panic. Neither should we be.