It was meant to be a day of thanks. On one side of the world, Americans were sitting down to Thanksgiving meals surrounded by loved ones, each pausing to openly express for what they were most grateful. In a similar spirit, across the world minds and hearts were quietly holding on to what has become a daily thought, even if one not overtly articulated: ongoing gratitude for general health, general wellbeing. Such are the times in which we live.

A mere 36 days from the close of 2021 it was to be, in a way, kick-off of the countdown to the close of the year when stealth and stamina made possible long, long awaited reunions with family and friends, desperately needed rest, emotional recharge having made it to the end of another uncertain year, and quietly whispered hopes that the worst of this COVID chapter of our lives was over.

As the hours of the day ticked on, announcements started to appear through global newswires: a new strain of COVID had been identified in South Africa: B.1.1.529 – one with a spike protein dramatically different from the original COVID virus, and one feared dramatically more dangerous due to high transmissibility.

And then Black Friday hit. As the world woke, immediately it started to see red:

  • Red geo-blockings on maps as countries were put onto travel ‘Red Lists’,
  • Red arrows as stock prices of travel-related business plummeted as much as double-digit, and,
  • Red hot words as people in a country once again being stigmatised for scientific expertise capable of identifying a dangerous new mutation within the molecular make-up of the virus turned to social media.

From East to West, the growing sense of panic around a mutating virus unleashed a terrifying speed of mutation of response never seen before:

  • New COVID variant confirmations mutating into travel bans by governments,
  • Travel bans mutating into immediate flight cancellations by airlines,
  • Flight cancellations mutating into future airline, hotel, tour, cruise, and attraction booking cancellations by travellers, as well as wedding and events cancellations by planners,
  • Cancellations across the travel experience chain and tourism economy ecosystem mutating into a sickening sense of déjà vu across the global Travel, Tourism, Hospitality & Aviation industries,
  • Cancellations mutating into tears. Tears, tears, and more tears. Again.

In just 24 hours, over 22 months of the global community living with and working through COVID19 seemed to be brought back to day 1. The slow regaining of momentum of recovery of travel economies around the world was stopped. All had been grounded. And sadly, trust and confidence of travellers has been broken.

Now, just a handful of days on, we continue to feel as if our hands are tied. The global healthcare community have indicated we have ten to fourteen days of waiting before we understand the risks of this new variant – now known as OMICRON following an unfortunate passage of time between connection to South Africa as the source of identification and the renaming as a global variant to eliminate (already now established) national prejudice.

As the world waits, the range of mental gymnastics across questions, concerns, commentary, and critique continue to mutate into a range of emotions: anger, fear, disappointment, abandonment, anxiety, depression. Once again, our shared world is feeling very alone.

Alone as individuals,

Alone as countries,

Alone as regions.

Everyone, exhausted, again alone.

But how to regain strength, how to heal?

By focusing on what cures us, focusing on how we stop the spread of anger, frustration, and isolation.

As a global community it is not about focusing on past tense: Who said what? To whom? When? Where? Why? These questions do not concern COVID, in whichever strain it appears. Anything ‘then’ is done.

Our challenge is now:

  • Who needs to say what? The WHO – helping us understand this latest strain of COVID 19, and those that risk following on, in a way that also helps us respond to future crises with greater calm, unity, data-based credibility, and compassion.
  • When? Now, ongoing, to keep us informed of the current reality to help tame temptation to panic without pausing for perspective, and yet allowed the time and respect the WHO need for the analysis to be done, the implications to be understood, the data-based plans to be made.
  • Where? Priority on ‘boostering’ the baseline – getting the right vaccines to the right (currently low availability & accessibility) places across the globe, through the right people, in the right quantities for full coverage, right now.
  • Why? Because that is the only way to protect one another holistically, equitably, sustainably, and aggressively as members of an interconnected, interdependent global community.

‘Mutation’ is a theory of nature that is inevitable, it is unavoidable, and it is manageable. In these times of COVID crisis and resulting chaos, our challenge, our chance, is mutating our energies from arguing problems towards finding solutions – global solutions – rapidly, as if, and because, our lives depend on it. x


Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2021