By Sunil Garodia
First publised on 2021-12-22 03:39:09
The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a timely warning that the Omicron variant of Covid, with its many mutations, is spreading at a furious rate (with fresh infections doubling in 1.5 to 3 days) and that nations should take all precautions to stop the spread. Shashank Joshi, a member of the Maharashtra Covid task force, has suggested that a combination of the earlier Delta variant and the Omicron variant (termed Delmicron) is behind the huge spike in fresh Covid cases in Europe and the US. This has huge implication for India as the country still grapples with Delta infections even as Omicron is being detected all over the country.
In view of this, the Centre on Tuesday issued an advisory to the states to activate war rooms, draw up action plans and reintroduce Covid curbs as per local needs. It suggested that testing should be ramped up and contact tracing must be done diligently in suspect cases. It also suggested that night curfew should be brought back and large congregations must be banned. The Centre has asked district administrations to keep a close watch on numbers and proactively analyze data and to anticipate trends and surges to take corrective action as per need.
But the way people are behaving, it is extremely scary. Mask usage has almost vanished with a miniscule percentage of people still following it. Over-crowding and large congregations are being witnessed in all towns and cities, especially in tourist places. People have decided that Covid has vanished and they have thrown all caution to the winds. Administrations have also become lax and there are no checks whether Covid norms are being followed. This is going to cost the country dear if Omicron or a combination of Delta and Omicron starts spreading at a fast rate. The most dangerous thing about Omicron infections are that nearly 80% of them are asymptomatic and hence likely to spread at a fast rate since the infected person will not get tested until it is too late.
Although most reports suggest that Omicron infection is not life-threatening with mild cases that often do not need hospitalization or oxygen support, but if too many people start getting infected, the load on the health infrastructure of the country will become unmanageable, like in the second wave, more so as Omicron is likely to spread 3 to 5 times more and faster. The Lancet study that says that the effect of Covishield starts waning 3 months after the second dose complicates matters further. As it is, Omicron is known to penetrate the vaccine shield in some cases. Now, if vaccine immunity wanes after 3 months, the chances of getting infected for Indians increases manifold. Hence, the government must also think seriously about the booster dose, at least for frontline workers and seniors.