- The spread of Omicron variant likely to outpace Delta: Experts
- Indian health sector needs more human resource to handle the next wave: IMA
- We need to boost up COVID vaccination: Experts
New Delhi: With the number of Omicron cases in India hitting 200, the daily COVID-19 cases in all metro cities are on the rise. On Sunday, Delhi reported its highest daily Covid tally in nearly six months and Mumbai logged the highest number of new cases since November 10. With educational institutions opening, elections coming up in some states, the wedding season underway and festivals coming up, NDTV spoke with experts to learn about what the rising Omicron cases will mean for India’s Covid situation.
In view of rising COVID cases in the UK, the AIIMS Director Dr Randeep Guleria has said that India should prepare itself for any eventuality. In an interview with NDTV, he said,
We should prepare and hope that things are not as bad as in the United Kingdom. We need more data on Omicron. Whenever there is a surge in cases in other parts of the world, we need to monitor it closely and be prepared for any eventuality.
Will The History Repeat Itself?
According to Dr Rahul Pandit, Member, National Taskforce and Member, Maharashtra COVID Taskforce, the situation currently is extremely on the cusp of being very crucial and the country will go through testing times in January and February next year. He said,
We have an advantage of hybrid immunity and a strong vaccination programme. But, if we don’t follow COVID appropriate behaviour, we will lose the advantage and the cases will go up in the next few weeks’ time. We have to remember that every time the UK or the US had a spike in the cases, we followed two to three months down the track. The history is clear.
As of now, there is no clear data on the severity of the Omicron variant when compared to the Delta variant. The reports state that Omicron causes mild disease. However, Dr BL Sherwal, Director, Microbiology, Safdarjung believes that we never know when and how things might turn. He added,
The worrisome part is that we are a highly populated country and once it (Omicron) gets established here, it will be trouble. Currently, Omicron cases are in single or double digits. There was a similar situation way back in February but by April it was havoc. We really don’t want to enter to that.
Sharing similar views and drawing an analogy between the Delta and Omicron variant, Dr Padma Srivastava, Chief Neuroscience Centre, AIIMS said,
When the Delta variant first appeared, it was said that it’s more transmissible because of certain mutations and it may not produce a very severe illness but that changed quickly. With this virus, we continue to be on a learning curve and at this point, I think we essentially exist on hope and prayer.
People Must Follow Restrictions, Avoid Gatherings, Warn Experts
According to Dr Subhash Salunkhe, Member, National Covid Task Force, it is likely that the spread of the Omicron variant will outpace Delta when there will be community transmission. Delta variant is said to be responsible for the devastating second wave that the country experienced earlier this year. Dr Salunkhe said,
It has been advised to people to avoid all non-essential travels and mass gathering and keep all festival and New Year celebrations low intensity. However, it seems like we are not at all worried, nor are we taking any precautions to avoid the rapid spread of the variant in the community. As a matter of fact, it is so unfortunate that political parties are having massive gatherings of people in their rallies. If we are going to have such a complacent attitude, how can people remain safe?
Dr Salunkhe further said that the pandemic is far from over and so people should not be complacent. He stressed that political leaders and government officials must act responsibly as the risk is still high. He said,
As part of the national Covid taskforce, we have clearly stated that our surveillance system, even for Delta, took a long time in becoming efficient. For the present variant, genome sequencing, which is an important tool, needs to become robust. The number of centres for genome sequencing needs to be increased. The government of India has already asked states to ramp up the infrastructure, add more beds, ensure sufficient oxygen supply, ventilator and prepare for the next wave.
In addition to this, Dr Srivastava called for research into tweaking the vaccines, understanding immunity post-infection, what is going to protect from Omicron, so on and so forth. She stressed on vaccinating at least 70 per cent of the population with both doses of the vaccine. Further talking about the need for a booster dose in the light of waning immunity, she said,
Remember, it (booster) is not just against Omicron. We also need protection against the Delta variant which is still there and serious.
According to Dr J A Jayalal, President, Indian Medical Association, to avoid the variant from spreading in the community, the focus should be not only on strengthening public health and social measures but also on increasing human resources. He highlighted that in India, the public health sector is suffering from a lack of adequate human resources.
He further warned against organising events like political rallies and celebrations that involve big gatherings. Dr Jayalal also stressed that there is a need to ensure that states are equipped with enough beds, ventilators, oxygen to manage the rising number of cases.
Talking about the same, Dr Pandit is of the opinion that as a country we are better prepared in terms of public health infrastructure including oxygen and beds to attend to the patients. He said,
We are doing more genome sequencing than what we were doing a year ago that’s why our public health department is able to identify these variants quickly. During the second wave, we learnt home care of patients. If omicron gives mild illness, the way to go forward would be to actually have home care. That would help us ease the infrastructure a little bit and continue with non-COVID patients.
The experts said that while a complete lockdown is not required, restrictions should be imposed and implemented in a better way. All experts NDTV spoke to emphasised on citizen behaviour in containing the pandemic and supporting the government to contain the third wave. This not only includes handwashing, masking and social distancing but also vaccination. Dr Pandit said,
The public need to shoulder their responsibility, take the vaccine and wear a mask.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, that is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.