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Scars of COVID19 waves 1,2: India prepares for Omicron

Experts believe information on this coronavirus variant is still sparse to arrive at a definitive conclusion

December 24, 2021 / 06:41 PM IST
There is much uncertainty over whether vaccines will be able to effectively prevent infection from the Omicron variant [Representative image]

There is much uncertainty over whether vaccines will be able to effectively prevent infection from the Omicron variant [Representative image]

Once bitten twice shy. It would appear that the lessons of Covid-19 wave 1 and wave 2 have been well and truly learnt.

The country is preparing on a war footing for the ominous-sounding Omicron variant of the coronavirus, which is wreaking havoc in the West, most notably Europe and in particular the UK.

Read also: PM Modi chairs high-level review meet to assess COVID-19, Omicron preparedness.

India is preparing in earnest. Its latest Omicron tally has jumped to 360; Maharashtra leads with 88 cases, followed by Delhi at 67. Till now, 90 patients have been discharged after recovery, as per the Union health ministry, revealing that the Omicron variant may not be as lethal as some of its predecessors like Delta.

The country has reported 6,650 new cases of Covid-19 and 374 deaths in 24 hours, the government said on December 24, but none of the casualties have been identified with Omicron – as yet.

The scars of the two debilitating Corona waves are unmistakable, and the country does not want to take any chances. The Union health secretary’s letter to the chief secretaries of states and Union Territories on Tuesday cautioned them to be prepared for the worst. It said that Omicron was at least ``three times more transmissible’’ than the Delta variant and therefore “greater foresight, data analysis, dynamic decision-making, strict and prompt containment action” were required at the local and district levels.

The official’s directive also underlined two specific parameters which states have to be vigilant about: a test positivity of 10 percent or more in the last week and bed occupancy crossing 40 percent or more on oxygen-supported or intensive care units.

Most experts, however, believe that the top health official’s warnings are in order, even if the variant itself is not as devastating as currently perceived.

Still mysterious variant

``It is good to prepare for the worst, but I believe that Delta is still the Corona variant India needs to watch. The same vaccine works for both Delta and Omicron and public precautions like wearing masks are mandatory. Night curfews and the rest of the precautions too are in order,” said Dr Samiran Panda, additional director general of the ICMR.

He told Moneycontrol that while preparing hospitals and putting into place infrastructure for a potential corona wave was the right thing to do, there is still very little information available on Omicron to make an educated estimate of its severity.

According to Dileep Mavalankar, head, Indian Institute of Public Health, Gandhinagar, Gujarat, the pattern of its impact outside India would suggest that while Omicron is very contagious, it comes down equally quickly and is generally regarded as mild. ``It has spread in South Africa where the population is younger but its impact has been lesser as compared to the UK, which has an aging population. Even though the population in the UK is double or even treble vaccinated, it has a higher level of co-morbidity. So, it would be premature to arrive at a conclusion,” he told Moneycontrol.

Mavalankar has no doubt about its ability to spread rapidly: in the US, it went from 7 percent to 70 percent in no time, he points out.

However, the Centre’s concern is driven by the experience of the last two years when waves in Europe and the United States became harbingers of havoc in India.

Experts, however, do not believe that Omicron will be immune to vaccines in India – Covishield and Covaxin – certainly there is no evidence yet to arrive at that conclusion. Further, it may be inaccurate to conclude a pattern, based on the last two years of the pandemic.

Clearly then, to be forewarned is to be forearmed.

Ranjit Bhushan is an independent journalist and former Nehru Fellow at Jamia Millia University. In a career spanning more than three decades, he has worked with Outlook, The Times of India, The Indian Express, the Press Trust of India, Associated Press, Financial Chronicle, and DNA.
first published: Dec 24, 2021 06:29 pm