As the world gradually recovers from the ill effects of the almost two-year COVID-19 pandemic, a new variant of the dreaded coronavirus was detected in November. Known as the omicron variant, it is more transmissible and can infect individuals even if they have been fully vaccinated.
– The COVID-19 omicron variant is reported to be more transmissible and more severe.
– Travel restrictions on countries with reported cases of omicron are likely to affect international students and higher education institutions.
– International students doing online learning may have to continue doing so until restrictions are lifted.
Officially designated as B1.1.529, the omicron variant was first flagged by scientists in South Africa, with the earliest case being reported on Nov. 9, 2021. A surge of over 1,000 percent in cases in South Africa was reported over the past two weeks.
While delta is still the dominant variant worldwide, with around 99.9 percent of cases in countries like the United States, authorities have quickly enforced restrictions on flights and travel from approximately 10 South African countries. This is to help ensure that the virus does not spread any further.
Another issue the World Health Organization (WHO) is looking at is how resistant the new strain is to current vaccines. Companies like Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson said that they are now conducting research about the new variant to see how they can deal with it.
Effects on education and institutions
With this, the question in many students’ minds is: How will this affect their education? And for international students still waiting to be allowed entry to their destination countries, will they ever experience studying abroad?
One effect already being felt is the closure of a good number of schools since the WHO reported the new omicron variant. In the United States, for instance, 621 schools across 58 districts have reported closures. The reasons given for closures varied, from teacher and faculty burnout to understaffing and spikes in the number of COVID-19 cases (not necessarily omicron).
Beyond the United States, however, travel bans from countries with cases of the new COVID-19 variant are likely to affect higher education institutions across the world. Countries like India, Thailand, and members of the European Union have all imposed travel and flight restrictions from Africa.
This means that international students may have to stay put and continue with their studies online. Higher education institutions may also have to shift back to doing virtual classes or put stricter restrictions when it comes to attending classes on campus.
How COVID-19 has affected education
As early as March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic first gripped the globe, the education sector was already hit hard. Most schools in all levels closed down in just about every country in the world. Numbers suggest around 1.2 billion youngsters were affected because of this. This eventually led to utilizing the power of the internet and online methods of delivery as a means to keep learning going and make education more accessible, especially international education.
Studies have shown that even before the pandemic, investments in online learning were already pegged at $18.66 million as of 2019. This is projected to increase to around $350 billion by 2025, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
And while the omicron variant has not hit that many countries and people, we are being warned to be extra careful and even brace for the worst. The world could be facing yet another round of lockdowns or an even greater pandemic. For now, it is best to be careful, follow health and safety regulations, and hope that the pandemic ends soon.
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