Omicron wave puts India on High Alert!


People throng Sarojini Nagar market ahead of Christmas festival, in New Delhi (ANI Photo)

As the new variant spreads across the country, the government asks all states to take all possible measures to contain the virus. What is India doing to avoid a third wave as devastating as the second one early this year?

Our Bureau
New Delhi

As Omicron cases steadily rise across the country, several states have started imposing new curbs to stop the spread. India has recorded more than 260 cases of the Omicron variant of coronavirus across 16 states and UTs so far. The daily rise in new Covid-19 cases has been recorded below 15,000 for the last 56 days now.

The active cases comprise 0.23 per cent of the total infections, the lowest since March 2020, while the national Covid-19 recovery rate has further improved to 98.40 per cent, the highest since March 2020.

Amid the concerns over the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a meeting on Thursday with officials to review the pandemic situation in the country. Narendra Modi has directed the officials to ensure that the health systems in the states, beginning from the district level, are strengthened to meet any challenge posed by the new variant. It is important for States to ensure that the Oxygen supply equipment are installed and fully functional, he instructed the officials.

Modi has directed the officials to work with the states on a regular basis and review the status of preparedness of various components of health infrastructure including training and capacity building of human resources, timely availability of ambulances, readiness of states to operationalise COVID facilities for institutional quarantining, and effective and supervised monitoring of those in home isolation.

Modi also directed officials for effective use of IT tools for tele-medicine and tele-consultation.

Students of Gurukul School Of Art, dressed up in Santa Claus attire, make a painting with a message ‘Celebrate Christmas With Care’ in the wake of the COVID-19 variant Omicron, in Mumbai on Wednesday. (ANI Photo)

Five-fold strategy

The Centre has proposed a fivefold strategy for tackling the threat of COVID-19 variant ‘Omicron’, in a review meeting on Thursday over public health preparedness by States and Union Territories for fighting COVID-19 and the Omicron variant.

The fivefold strategy includes broad guidelines under the heading – Containment, Testing and Surveillance, Clinical management, COVID Safe Behaviour and Vaccination. According to Health Ministry, states are advised to Impose night curfews and ensure strict regulation of large gatherings, especially ahead of the forthcoming festivities. Promptly notify “Containment Zones”, “Buffer Zones” in the case in new clusters of COVID positive cases. Ensure strict perimeter control of Containment Zone as per extant guidelines and send all cluster samples to INSACOG Labs for Genome Sequencing without delay.

“On the issue of Testing and Surveillance, States were asked to keep a close and strict watch on the number of Delta and Omicron cases in all districts. Keep a tab on case positivity numbers on a day-on-day and week-on-week basis, the doubling rate and new emerging clusters,” reads the official statement.

In addition, attention needs to be placed on conducting tests as per extant ICMR and MoHFW guidelines. Ensure door-to-door case search in the containment areas. Test all SARI/ILI and vulnerable/co-morbid people. Ensure right proportion of RT-PCR: RAT (at least 60:40) tests in total tests being conducted daily. This can be ramped up to a 70:30 ratio. Ensure contact tracing of all COVID positive persons & their timely testing, especially in clusters reporting high numbers and utilize the access to “AIR SUVIDHA” Portal to monitor the international passengers.

“As many States have decommissioned COVID facilities, they are required to keep an action plan ready for making these operational along with adequate availability of doctors and ambulance on call, in case there is a rise in COVID cases,” said Health Ministry.

On the front of COVID Safe Behaviour, states were advised to ensure advance engagement and information so that there is no misinformation or panic, communicate transparently on hospital and testing infrastructure availability, conduct regular press briefings and encourage community participation and strict enforcement of Covid Appropriate Behaviour.

Regarding Vaccination, States were advised to ensure 100 per cent coverage of left out first and second dose eligible beneficiaries in an accelerated manner, special focus to be given to those districts where the first and second dose coverage is less than the national average and strengthen door-to-door vaccination campaign especially in States/UTs where vaccination coverage is below the national average.

States going in for elections in the near future to exponentially ramp up the vaccination, especially in the low coverage districts to protect the vulnerable population and pockets with low vaccination coverage and those with low COVID exposure may be more vulnerable to the new Omicron variant. States to accord special attention to ramp up vaccination in these pockets, advised Ministry.

Meanwhile, Union Health Ministry on Tuesday alerted States and Union Territories about the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, and said that based on current scientific evidence, Omicron is at least three times more transmissible than the Delta variant.

Home isolation

In view of the rising Omicron threat, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Thursday said that the state government has decided to strengthen the home isolation module since the new variant of COVId-19 causes mild infection.

Addressing a press conference after a high-level meeting with officials over COVID-19, Kejriwal said that the Delhi government will increase daily test capacity to three lakh and strengthen the home isolation module to handle one lakh positive cases each day. “Delhi government have made all preparations considering Omicron is highly transmissible but causes very mild infection, fewer hospitalisations and deaths. We have created a capacity to conduct three lakh tests daily. With our preparations, we can handle as many as one lakh daily cases if such a situation arises. We are strengthening our home isolation management protocol,” said Delhi Chief Minister.

“Since Omicron causes mild infection, have decided to strengthen home isolation module. We appeal to persons with mild symptoms to stay at home, don’t rush to the hospital. Under our home isolation module, our healthcare workers will visit patients at their residence, conduct tele-counselling and also give a kit containing oximeter etc to them,” he said.

Kejriwal further said that the government is also increasing manpower to manage patients in home isolation and creating a buffer stock of medicines that can last two months.

“We are increasing our manpower, stocking medicines for the coming few months. We are arranging medical oxygen and 15 oxygen tankers will be delivered to us in the next 3 weeks,” said Delhi CM.

He further said that according to the serosurvey, 95 per cent of people in Delhi have already been infected with COVID-19 and they have developed antibodies.

As per the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, there are 64 Omicron cases in the national capital.

The Chief Minister said that the government is increasing the manpower and also arranging 15 oxygen tankers. “We are increasing our manpower, stocking medicines for the coming few months. We are arranging medical oxygen and 15 oxygen tankers will be delivered to us in the next 3 weeks,” said the Delhi CM.

A Staff member counts oxygen cylinders at Commonwealth Games (CWG) Village isolation center in view of rising Omicron cases, in New Delhi on Thursday. (ANI Photo/Rahul Singh)

Urgent vaccination

Meanwhile, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Delhi Director Dr Randeep Guleria on Wednesday said that the Omicron variant of coronavirus is more transmissible and emphasised on vaccination and COVID-19 appropriate behaviour to counter the spread of the virus.

“Omicron is a new variant and is a more transmissible variant. We need to do two things to protect ourselves, first one is to take vaccines and the second is to follow Covid appropriate behaviour,” Dr Guleria told ANI. AIIMS Director said as of now the Omicron is causing mild illness and hospitalisation is also not much.

“Most of the cases are from western countries like the UK, Denmark, South Africa. Currently, it is causing mild illness and hospitalisation are not much. In terms of symptoms more or less it is the same and the majority of patients have mild symptoms like fever, body ache, sour throat, running nose and cough,” he said.

He said AIIMS will train healthcare workers engaged in oxygen management and administration to ensure judicious use of medical oxygen.

“AIIMS is conducting training programme in terms of the academic session. It aims to empower healthcare workers engaged in oxygen management and administration with the essential knowledge and skills to ensure judicious use of oxygen,” Dr Guleria added.

Union Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Dr Bharati Pravin Pawar on Wednesday launched National Oxygen Stewardship Programme at AIIMS in New Delhi.

It envisages identifying and training at least one “oxygen steward” in each district across the country. These trained professionals would be responsible for leading the training on oxygen therapy and management in their respective districts and also support an audit of oxygen delivery and preparedness for a surge scenario.

Given India’s disastrous response to the second wave in April and May this year, India can’t afford to let its guard down.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

scroll to top