Adapting to Omicron

Virus, Microscope, Infection, Illness, Death, Medicine

Omicron is the word on everyone’s minds now.

The word ‘Covid’ conjures up memories of lockdowns, mandates, restrictions, a full-court press of fear and flip-flops in the news. With the Omicron variant, it’s so tempting to fall back into the old patterns of thinking.

As for me, I’m quietly optimistic.

The data is extremely limited for now. It may change over the coming weeks. But from what little data that is available, here’s what I see:

The main concern here is is an increase in hospitalization rates of children under 5 in South Africa. Is this because the virus has evolved specifically to target children? Is it simply an artifact of increased transmissibility? Or is it the result of data coming from a country with a lower median age? (28.8% of the population of South Africa is below the age of 15.) The situation should clarify over the coming weeks.

Of secondary concern is that Omicron more easily reinfects people who have recovered from Covid. This may point to natural immunity losing effectiveness against Omicron as well. But if symptoms really are mild, then it shouldn’t be a major worry.

Assuming that these findings hold—and they may change over the coming weeks—this points to Covid following the evolutionary trajectory of most viruses. Viruses seek to spread and reproduce, and they cannot do that if they kill the host. Thus, a virus tends to evolve to become more transmissible and less deadly over time.

The exception to this is vaccine-driven evolution.

As El Gato Malo discusses here, leaky vaccines that do not sterilize or prevent transmission tend to select for hotter, more lethal strains. This happened with Marek’s disease in chickens. Leaky vaccines drove the pathogen that causes Marek’s disease to evolve until it hit a case fatality ratio of 100%. As a result, all chickens have to be vaccinated against Marek’s disease.

However, if Covid has selected instead for increased transmissibility and decreased lethality, then the world might have just dodged the biggest bullet since the Spanish flu.

What does this mean for us?

Live as if you’ll be exposed to the virus at some point. Manage your risk appropriately. Go about your life as best as you can.

Don’t worry.

Leave the worrying to the government.

Mask, Protection, Virus, Pandemic, Coronavirus, Disease

The Omicron Era

I can afford to be wrong. The government believes it cannot afford to be seen as wrong.

I wish I were wrong about the vaccines. I wish the vaccines truly were as safe and effective as the Establishment claims they are. But the fact remains that there is huge disagreement between the official position and the studies I’ve seen from independent experts.

Science is not a religion. Science rests on the foundation of falsifiability. A single observation can overturn centuries of theory in an instant. The classic example is the white swan / black swan experiment. The statement ‘all swans are white’ can be disproved by observing a single black swan.

Similarly, the theory of gravity holds because it stands up to many tests. All things with mass or energy are attracted to each other. Toss a ball into the air, and the earth will pull it back down. The more tests whose outcomes conform to the predicted result, the more confident you are in the theory. But if someone invents an anti-gravity machine, then the standard theory of gravity will have to be thrown out in favour of one that can explain the workings of the machine.

When the Establishment shuts down all attempts at disagreement and falsifiability, when corporations and governments wield their power to censor, coerce and ridicule people making a good faith attempt to understand the data, then you know that what they’re doing isn’t science.

We have to assume the worst. If I’m wrong about the vaccine, I can always get the vaccine at a later date. But if I’m right, I cannot uninject myself. Big Pharma is not liable for adverse reactions. Payouts from the Vaccine Injury Financial Assistance Programme are not guaranteed. I have to shoulder the risk of vaccination—alone.

But if I’m wrong, I can easily and swiftly change my mind.

The government is in a different, and far more precarious, position.

Like every government around the world, the Singapore government has staked its political credibility on battling the pandemic. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong claims that trust is the ‘decisive difference’ in Singapore’s Covid response. The people trust the People’s Action Party, and the party must continue nurturing the people’s trust. This implies that should the government be perceived as incompetent, it will shatter the people’s trust. That in turn will undermine its political legitimacy.

Singapore is in the middle of a leadership transition. Lee has signaled his intention to retire and hand over the reigns to the fourth generation of leaders. It’s telling that the 4G leaders are the public face of the Covid response—not the Prime Minister. By successfully managing the pandemic, the 4G leadership would secure their credibility for the future.

To be sure, Singapore did enjoy some early success compared to other countries. During the first half of 2020, the majority of transmissions occurred within migrant worker dormitories. After the dorms were isolated, transmissions were brought under control. The arrival of Delta, and the spikes in deaths and new cases in spite of vaccinations and restrictions, has put the 4G leadership to the test.

The 4G leadership cannot afford to be seen as wanting. They must step out of the long shadow of Lee Kuan Yew and prove that they have the capability to lead Singapore into the future. They must be perceived as capable.

Which means they believe they cannot afford to be seen as weak.

The government measures its response using a raft of key indicators. This includes: new transmissions, hospitalizations, ICU utilization, vaccination rates, deaths, week-to-week infection growth ratio. Much of this data was widely available in the early days of the pandemic. But as time passed, that data became increasingly opaque. For instance, the government doesn’t provide raw numbers for vaccinated and unvaccinated deaths and new transmissions any longer.

The situation reminds me of the Vietnam War, but in reverse. American commanders measured their success by body count. They felt that the more enemies they killed, the greater their success. They urged their troops to kill the enemy in outsized numbers. Which they did, gloriously well, winning many battles. But in the end, the Americans lost the war. It turned out progress in war cannot be measured by something so simply as body counts.

What about the pandemic? If fewer people get sick over time, shouldn’t that count as a success?

Sure. But what if new transmissions explode?

This is the risk of Omicron. The worst case scenario is a repeat of the Q4 2021 spike in transmissions, with thousands of new cases a day, in a climate hostile to the virus. Which implies that during the the cooler season, in conditions more favourable to the virus, the surge will be even worse. We cannot discount this possibility, as South Africa has recently entered summer, but is nonetheless seeing a surge in new Covid cases, especially Omicron.

The government may not necessarily measure success simply by the case rates. But the people will. Day after day, the media draws attention to certain key statistics: new cases, deaths, week-to-week infection growth ratio, ICU utilization rate. These are the metrics the people will use to measure success, and judge the government’s competency. Regardless of the internal metrics the government uses, so far as the people are concerned, the only metrics the people will use are the ones they see.

Having staked its credibility, and therefore its future, on these metrics, the government must do everything it can to drive them down—or slowly shift to a new narrative and new measurement criteria. Until and unless the situation changes beyond the control of the Establishment, expect the former.

The government is not an individual, or even a small team. A single person can swiftly change course if he realises he’s wrong. A government is huge, ponderous and unwieldy. If there are departments or ministries within the same administration with different policies and positions, they’re going to work at cross-purposes with each other. They’re going to trip all over themselves. They have to be on the same page. And once they are all on the same page, it is very difficult for them to change course. To make the right decision from the start, they need data. But data at the beginning of a crisis is limited, which means it’s not likely for a government to get it right from the get-go.

Once publicly committed to a course of action, they cannot easily change course. At the political level, Singaporeans have repeatedly criticized the Ministry of Health for ‘flip-flopping’, changing its policies every so often. This hurts the government’s credibility. At the ground level, constant policy changes makes it hard for government officers to even remember the current rules, never mind enforce them. The government has every incentive to get things right the first time. But a government is an institution of imperfect humans. Should it make a mistake, there is always the temptation to blame people for noncompliance, to continue to push the existing policies, to seek out data that confirms its position than to look for data that negates it. To a government, the perceived cost of a significant course change might be far higher than the perceived cost of staying the course—especially if the bureaucrats fall into the trap of groupthink.

it is easier, and therefore more likely, for the government to double down, triple down, and quadruple down on vaccines, vaccine discrimination, and narrative control.

We are facing two possible scenarios. The first is that Omicron, by some miracle, doesn’t establish itself in Singapore. Perhaps it’s less transmissible than feared, border control measures work, contact tracing and tests help prevent the virus from spreading, and so on.

In the short term, it means nothing much will change. Life will continue as it normally does. However, it also means that Delta will continue to stay. Delta, with its decreased transmissibility and increased lethality versus Omicron—but also with its reasonably well-known risks.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think this is likely. South Africa was the first to detect Omicron. It doesn’t necessarily mean that Omicron originated from South Africa (the country), or even southern Africa (the region). Detection and tests are trailing indicators: by the time a new variant is confirmed, the virus is already out there in the wild, especially for an especially contagious variant like Omicron. Even if Omicron did come from southern Africa, it had been in Europe for at least a week before it was reported. Singapore has vaccinated travel lanes with multiple European countries.

This brings us to the second scenario. We should operate under the assumption that it’s only a matter of time until Omicron establishes a foothold in Singapore and outcompetes Delta. This means a sudden resurgence of cases, but a disproportionately smaller number of hospitalisations—except among young children. We can likely expect the following:

  • Approval of mass vaccination for children. An expert committee is currently contemplating extending the vaccine to children aged 5 to 11. The arrival of Omicron will probably tip the odds towards approval. We may also expect another committee to study vaccination for children under 5.
  • Increased scapegoating, pressure and restrictions for unvaccinated. The government has always held the position that the unvaccinated are at risk of the virus, and are more likely to spread the virus. The enhanced January 1 vaccine discrimination measures will proceed as planned, and may be expanded to banish the unvaccinated completely from public spaces. The government will seek to increase the pressure on the remaining holdouts to get vaccinated, or else. The media will continue to amplify the government’s message. Big Tech based overseas will continue to intervene in domestic politics by shutting down Singaporean dissidents. Data on vaccinated patients will disappear completely from the public eye.
  • Restriction of services to the vaccinated. Only the vaccinated will be allowed to access many services. This includes but is not limited to examinations, non-critical medical services, MRT services, beauty and wellness, in-person banking and public services, and large grocery stores. I have read stories of certain institutions already doing this. Expect this to become formalised in government policy.
  • Employers will fire the unvaccinated, or be required to fire them. This is already happening. I’ve heard stories of bosses firing or planning to fire their employees for refusing to get vaccinated, in the private and public sectors. They may fire them on the spot, or place them on indefinite no pay leave, or some other measure that points to the door.
  • Only the vaccinated will be hired. With the supermajority of the population vaccinated already, and the government formally approving vaccine discrimination, then only the vaccinated will be hired for jobs. There may be wiggle room for remote work and/or online positions, but expect jobs that require face time to be restricted to the vaccinated only. This may not necessarily be law, but it will likely become reality. Discrimination becomes easy when the target of discrimination has already been painted as enemies of society.
  • Mandatory booster shots. Singapore already requires someone to take 3 doses of the Sinovac vaccine to be considered fully vaccinated. Everyone else who has taken 2 doses of the mRNA vaccine will be ‘requested’, then required, to take the booster to be maintain their vaccination status. Immunocompromised persons who have received 3 shots of an mRNA vaccine as well as those who have taken 3 doses of Sinovac may also be ‘recommended’, then required, to take a booster shot to be considered fully vaccinated. Expect existing law to be amended accordingly.
  • Mass compliance. 96% of Singapore’s eligible population has been fully vaccinated. They’ve already taken 2 or 3 shots. They will look at the unvaccinated and see the costs of non-compliance. They will tune into the media and soak in the narrative. They will look around themselves and see only the vaccinated. No Singaporean healthcare worker will speak against the narrative, or be allowed to speak freely. The booster will likely to remain free for the time being. The cost of non-compliance will be in their faces every day, while the cost of compliance will be minimized. Expect them to continue to take however many boosters along however long a timeframe the government demands, and continue to follow the narrative barring a major shake-up.

One possible alternative outcome is an overall reduction of reported new cases, hospitalisations and deaths. This may sound counterintuitive, until you take into account the symptoms of Covid. Unlike previous variants, many Omicron patients report no loss of smell and taste. The reported symptoms seem to be similar to the common cold. It’s easy for a patient to believe he caught regular influenza, not Omicron, unless he takes the test. He may even decide he can fight it off by himself with regular over the counter remedies—and he might even be right. Should this take place en masse, then instead of an expected spike in transmissions, we will see a reduction.

Can it happen? It’s not out of the question. Is it likely? That I do not know. Only a rigorous testing regimen will be able to capture the extent of the spread of Omicron. As more and more unvaccinated people are shut out from society, I think there will come a point where the only complete data picture we’ll receive will be from frontline workers who are required to take regular tests even if they were vaccinated, and from hospitalised patients. This might skew the findings. To what degree, I cannot guess. I am simply throwing this thought out here for future contemplation.

Will there be a second lockdown? Such a so-called ‘circuit breaker’ will signal that the government has lost control of the virus. It will stir up fear, angst, anxiety, and of course, anger. Prolonged lockdowns will also lead to increased stress and mental illness. Furthermore, it will shake Singapore’s standing in the eyes of the world. Singapore, more than any other country, relies on its reputation for stability, prosperity and competency. The government will be driven to do everything it can to avoid a second lockdown, which means it will ramp up all other measures. But if Omicron defeats them, then you can expect a lockdown—for the unvaccinated first, and then for everyone if that doesn’t work.

But if the latter occurs, then it will completely undermine the narrative that we are facing a pandemic of the unvaccinated.

As such, a general lockdown will likely only occur if the government feels it has no choice left. And they will blame the unvaccinated for it—and anyone else who hasn’t received their boosters.

Will the vaccine be mandatory? Probably not—or at least, not yet. Singapore already has a de facto vaccine mandate. Making the vaccination compulsory isn’t going to do much more. It could scare some holdouts into taking the vaccine, or scare the vaccinated into pressuring their unvaccinated friends and family members to take the vaccine. That is its most significant psychological effect.

87% of Singapore’s population is now fully vaccinated. That means about 708,500 people are not vaccinated. The jails aren’t large enough to hold everyone. Likewise, Singapore is too small to build quarantine facilities capable of holding even a fraction of that number.

Any mandate will likely follow the format of the Infectious Diseases (Diphtheria and Measles Vaccination) Regulations, which state that violation will result in a fine of $500 for the first offence, then $1000 for future offences. Greece has already imposed a monthly fine of 100 euros on over-60s who refuse vaccination. Singapore no doubt will study this. With such huge numbers of people who remain unvaccinated, the police can only realistically arrest and jail those who refuse to pay the fine. Impose too high a fine and the holdouts will be far more likely to band together to fund a massive legal campaign instead. They will have nothing left to lose at that point.

A formal mandate will likely change some minds. As for the rest? Expect their attitudes towards vaccination to harden even further. Their thinking is simple: if the vaccine were truly safe and effective, why do you have to force me to take it? What else will you force me to do after I take the vaccine? How many doses will I have to take a year? At what point is the risk of an adverse reaction greater than the virus?

The government believes that it cannot afford to be seen as wrong. Its political future rests on how the people perceives its ability to manage the pandemic. Having built up goodwill from earlier successes, a single misstep now means the government could potentially lose everything and then some.

The sound approach will of course be to base public policy on the scientific process. This means gathering all the data, including and especially the data that contradicts the narrative, and attempt to figure out what is really going on. It means releasing all the data for the public to see, discuss, analyze, and provide feedback. It means engaging the people instead of speaking ex cathedra. Most of all, it means the willingness to acknowledge errors and change course while there is still time to prevent a disaster. By signaling openness, collaboration and agility, the government may yet restore the trust of the unvaccinated. An especially bold government may even use the mildness of the Omicron variant as a justification to relax restrictions.

Whether the government will do this is left as an exercise for the reader.

Earth, Network, Blockchain, Globe, Digitization

The Parallel Society

The above scenarios are just predictions. The situation is still fluid. Another black swan may appear and throw everything into disarray. Regardless of what may happen, you must structure a life resistant to, or grows in response to, disruption.

Other people living in other countries may have the ability to get off the grid. We can’t do that in Singapore. Singapore is too small and lacks the necessary resources for people to do that. Instead of disappearing altogether, we must create parallel systems. Previously I wrote about a parallel economy for the pandemic. Use that as the basis going forward. Here are some ideas and principles to work on.

Physical Health

Get healthy. Even in the dreaded Delta variant, 98.7% of patients are asymptomatic or only experience mild symptoms. You want to increase your odds of being part of the 98.7%. This means exercise, diet, getting sunlight every day, hitting your vitamin and nutritional requirements. Even if you are in the at-risk group, there is no downside to getting healthy, and plenty of upside.

This is not a one-and-done deal. It requires commitment. Effort. Motivation. Wanting to not due from a virus ought to be adequate motivation. If it isn’t, find others who will support you and hold you accountable to your health goals. Hold them accountable too.

Social and Psychological Health

It’s hard enough being unvaccinated in Singapore. The coming weeks and months will be even harder. Isolation, peer pressure, ostracision, government and media criticism, all of this will take its toll. And that’s not counting the additional stress of potentially losing your job, facing down new laws and restrictions, and so on.

You need to take care of your psychological health as well. Don’t spend all day at the screen. Take time out to go on a walk, to soak in the sunlight, to look after mind, body and spirit. Reach out to your friends and family, and build stronger ties with them. Remember that there are hundreds of thousands of Singaporeans just like you. You are not alone. You need only reach out to them.

You will face haters, trolls, and the full might of the narrative. Every day, remind yourself that no one can make you choose. They can pressure you, they can isolate you, but they cannot reach into your brain and make you willingly choose to do something you don’t want to do.

You are free. You control your destiny. You have agency over your life. Never surrender it to anyone.

At the same time, don’t harass the vaccinated for making their choices. They are not your enemies. Same goes for safety distancing ambassadors, security guards, and whoever has the job of keeping you from the public square. Life is hard enough as is; don’t make it harder for anyone else. Never forget who implemented the policies that divided the nation, and the world. They bear the responsibility for everything you are facing now.

If you’re vaccinated, do not make life harder for the unvaccinated than it already is. No matter how tempting it may be, refrain from pressuring or ostracising them even further. As surely as you had your reasons to take the shot, they had their reasons to not take the shot. To be human, to be part of a functioning society, is to respect the choices of others.

The narrative claims that the unvaccinated are more likely to transmit Covid. That doesn’t mean the vaccinated won’t. Look around on Brave or Presearch and you’ll see stories of Covid outbreaks in highly-vaccinated areas, spread by the vaccinated. Do not allow yourself to believe that the vaccinated enjoy any kind of moral superiority. Once your fully vaccinated status expires, you will join the ranks of the unvaccinated.

Most of us are going to live through the pandemic. The virus will burn out one day. That day, the karmic bill will come due. Every deed and misdeed, every act of charity and every act of iniquity, everything you’ve done will come back around.

Your actions in the most trying of times reveal your true nature to others. People will remember everything you’ve done during the pandemic, and everything you’ve not done. They will treat you accordingly.

Do not participate in a society that oppresses you. Do not oppress others. No one is free until all are free.

Income

You don’t need a job. You need income. Shift your mindset and proceed accordingly.

If you’re in danger of losing your job, you’re not limited to finding other jobs. You can create your own. Be it starting a business or going into investments or whatever, always keep in mind that you have options. If your options are limited, create them by learning new skills or networking with people who can help you.

If you still have a job but are at risk of being fired, develop side hustles now. Freelance writing, selling information products, consulting, and other such gigs. Should you lose your job, you should ideally be able to transition to the side hustle full-time with minimum disruption.

Where your attention goes, energy flows. Focus on your problems and you’ll only create mental blocks for yourself. Focus on solving those problems and you’ll find a way through.

People create value by solving problems. Identify your strengths, find a problem you can solve, then solve it for others. This is how you create wealth, even in an uncertain world. Become so valuable that no mandate or policy can touch you.

Education and Children

If you have young unvaccinated children, seriously consider homeschooling, or joining a homeschooling association. Parents report their children facing immense peer pressure to get vaccinated. Instead of receiving an education, they are receiving harassment and discrimination.

Any benefit from vaccinating children is minimal. Germany reports a grand total of zero deaths of adolescents and healthy children over the age of 4, which also mirrors Singapore’s experience from 14 October to 10 November.

Wherever possible, extract your children from any institution that mandates vaccination. If you cannot do this, then teach your children to resist peer pressure and develop the strength needed to hold the line.

If you are a young or working adult seeking higher education, you do not need paper qualifications. You need skills. There are plenty of online courses and universities that can teach you these skills remotely. Identify the kind of career and income you want, and accumulate the skills needed to get there. You may discover that paper qualifications aren’t anywhere near as necessary as society would have you think.

Be Prepared

The world is slipping into tumultuous times. Covid is only a small part of it.

Rising inflation. Increased fuel costs. Experts warn of supply chain disruptions and food shortages. The world is already facing a global chip shortage. Severe weather has hit agricultural areas and industrial plants. This confluence of events will shake the entire world.

I don’t think Singapore will face food shortages. Singapore is the most food-secure nation in the world. If food from one source dries up, Singapore has the capacity to transition to another. It will take a global calamity for Singapore to experience food shortages. But it is likely that prices of food will rise and continue to rise.

Stock up on long-lasting essentials. The next time you go to the market, buy a little more canned food. Buy extra batteries, cooking oil, toilet paper and other such necessities as well. Keep doing it with every visit. You don’t have to break the bank, but do increase your supply over time. Aim to build a stockpile for 3 to 6 months of essentials.

In the worst case scenario, if there’s a new lockdown or fresh wave of restrictions, expect panic buying like last year. You do not want to be caught up in that. The best way to avoid that is to be prepared well ahead of time.

This extends to high tech and other essentials too. The chip supply crunch is likely to continue to mid-2022 or longer. To avoid low stock or high prices in the future, buy what you need while they’re still available. That is, the electronics you need for work, to stay in touch with others, or for other essential actions.

Refrain from luxury spending, especially if you’re unvaccinated. You may just need every cent you can scrape together.

Politics

The opposition is silent. The activists are silent. The narrative continues unchecked in the media.

I never asked for the attention I’m receiving now, but I cannot remain silent. Silence will damn us all to a thousand years of darkness.

This is not about the jab. This is about principles. The ability to choose what is best for yourself, without coercion or intimidation from anyone. Give all this up over a virus with an exceedingly low mortality rate, and you will continue to surrender your soul in inches, until there is nothing left but a husk.

However you can, get involved. Petitions. Legal campaigns. Social media activity. Support business that do not discriminate against the unvaccinated. Help people find services for the unvaccinated. Share job and income opportunities wherever you can. Keep pushing back against everyone who would oppress you. Whether they means well or not, compliance with tyranny and discrimination only guarantees more of the same.

Keep up to date on reliable information. Be prepared to adapt to changing times and new information. Above all, hold fast.

It’s up to us to save ourselves.

Candles, Christmas, Fixed, Candlelight, Light, Wax

Towards A Better Tomorrow

The pandemic will not last forever. The virus will burn itself out, or mutate into an even weaker strain. But the impact of Covid measures will be felt for generations to come.

Governments and corporations around the world have been handed the opportunity to shape the lives and thoughts of billions of people around the world. Children have experienced mass disruptions in their lives, families, and schools. Communities have been divided, the gathering places emptied out. Friends and families have been turned against each other. Lies and narratives battle to drown out the truth.

Despite that, we have an opportunity to build a better world.

Collaboration. Decentralization. Free flow of information. Agility. Antifragility. The Internet. Disruptive technologies like the blockchain. We can build lives, communities and societies free from everyone who wishes to dominate and control us. We have the power to live life on our terms, not by the whims of anyone else. We can choose how to live, according to what best suits us, instead of following someone else’s demands.

Do you dream of a better world? Then let us build one together.

Li Ming dreams of a better world, too—but the world he lives in is mired in corruption. Check out SAGA OF THE SWORDBREAKER here!

Adapting to Omicron

5 thoughts on “Adapting to Omicron

  1. Well written as always. I would add some food for thought. The cases in Africa have been reported to be mild. It could be possible that omnicron is in itself not milder than Delta, but because a large portion of the population is already seropositive. Ie had a previous infection, and therefore has some form of immunity from Covid

    Thus it is possible that Omnicron might not be mild in a population that has no natural immunity.

    1. That is also possible. On the other hand, data from Europe also suggests mild symptoms. If this continues to be so, then it is an encouraging sign.

  2. Thank you for writing. You write very sharply and clearly. Are you trained in philosophy? Just wondering

  3. The Chinese Government suffers from Singapore’s need to appear correct in every respect, but at a much larger scale.

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