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London Diary: Is Britain Over-optimistic about New Omicron Subvariant?

The end of all curbs in Britain, on the back of recognition that the BA2 variant seems no worse than its mild predecessor BA1, means people find little reason to worry. (Representational pic/AP)

The end of all curbs in Britain, on the back of recognition that the BA2 variant seems no worse than its mild predecessor BA1, means people find little reason to worry. (Representational pic/AP)

Also, the fuss over Rishi Sunak's wife Akshata Murthy's citizenship, and how Meghan Markle and Boris Johnson are making news for somewhat similar reasons

Taking it easy: The principal difficulty with the spread of the new subvariant of Omicron, BA2 scientists have called it for some reason, is that everyone is simply bored hearing of Covid-19. The end of all curbs in Britain, on the back of recognition that this variant seems no worse than its mild predecessor BA1, means people find little reason to worry and now that they are largely unaffected, they don’t want to know.

The statistic therefore that the variant is rising among the 55-plus, as determined by an Imperial College study, provokes only mild good wishes for anyone infected with what’s being seen as a new name for another kind of flu. There’s a reason for such optimism that derives from scientific history, not just current exhaustion. Viruses that have spread far and wide, like the killer Spanish flu of a century ago have weakened over time and disappeared. So should this, going by past trajectories.

A caution against unchecked optimism is called for this time because this is a unique virus. The more it spreads, the greater the likelihood of yet more variants, with no certainty that the next one will necessarily be milder. It may yet transpire that Britain could have said goodbye to all curbs too soon.

Perception matters: What stands out amidst all the new hullabaloo over Akshata Murthy, wife of Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, and daughter of Infosys founder Narayana Murthy, is that she continues to remain an Indian citizen. News reports suggest that she profits from that because she has therefore been considered non-domiciled for the purpose of tax on earnings in Britain, but therefore not obliged to pay tax on dividends from the Indian business. She is said to own 0.93 percent of Infosys.

Her spokesperson has made matters clear: “Akshata Murty is a citizen of India, the country of her birth and parents’ home. India does not allow its citizens to hold the citizenship of another country simultaneously. She has always and will continue to pay UK taxes on all her UK income.” Rishi Sunak has declared that position on his own records as required.

All seems proper, but the difficulty with this is the perception. One, that the Chancellor is not just of Indian origin but is married to someone who remains an Indian citizen. Two, and possibly worse — as popular perceptions go — she, and consequently he, are far richer than thought previously. The British mostly develop a visceral dislike for anyone foreigner-like who stays partly foreigner but sits in Britain and makes a lot of money. That has been the starting point for the new press reports, and we haven’t seen the last of them yet.

‘Animal instincts’: Meghan Markle, who still can at a stretch be called the Duchess of Sussex, has ended her formal relationship with animal welfare in Britain. Given the passionate British love for animals – and this is one British quality the world would do well to emulate – that departure marks a serious disconnection. The association has ended after a three-year term as patron of the animal welfare group Mayhew. The duchess wrote on the website: “Though my time as patron of Mayhew has come to a close, my unwavering support has not.” That should win her considerable support.

The proverbial British love for animals stopped just short of another controversy around Prime Minister Boris Johnson, another of those controversies around him, that is. He was accused of an effort to rescue several animals out of Afghanistan, at a time when the British government was not doing enough to get people out of the country who had worked for the British and whose lives were in danger. Johnson denied that firmly. No one suggested that the welfare of animals should be prioritised above the welfare of Afghans. But that Johnson seemed at the least to have wanted to rescue animals is perhaps the charge against him that stuck least.

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