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Brooke Sample

The World’s Richest Nations Are Making a Huge Covid Mistake

High vaccination rates in developed countries have lulled them into complacency, even as another variant emerges and billions still haven’t received a shot.

Our efforts can’t stop here.

Our efforts can’t stop here.

Photographer: Andrej Ivanov/AFP via Getty Images

There’s a grim inevitability to the fact that the latest concerning strain of the Covid-19 virus — known as B.1.1.529, and now nicknamed the Omicron variant — should have been first identified in South Africa.

So far, SARS-CoV-2’s most devastating impacts have been in developed countries. The U.S., U.K. and European Union have accounted for about a third of deaths, compared to their roughly 10% share of the world’s population. However, it’s been in the BRICS grouping of fast-growing middle-income nations where an outsized share of new variants of concern have been isolated and analyzed for the first time. From the original strain in China, to the Delta lineage picked up in India, the Gamma variety isolated in Brazil, and now the Beta and Omicron strains from South Africa, only the U.K.-related Alpha variant has emerged outside these countries.