At the fag end of 2021 lurks the threat of a fresh Covid wave in India with the Centre asking the states to reactivate their Covid war rooms to tackle any eventuality. The daily Omicron variant tally is rising fast. On Wednesday, Delhi reported the highest single-day spike in Covid-19 cases in six months at 125. The Omicron tally in Delhi stands at 57.
Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) has banned Christmas and New Year gatherings and events across the national capital. DDMA has issued directions to all district magistrates to strictly enforce Covid guidelines, and conduct intensive survey to identify pockets, colonies, markets, slum areas and crowded places which could become Covid super-spreaders or hotspots.
Other states have also followed suit. Haryana government has made vaccination for mandatory for all adults in the state from January 1. Only fully vaccinated people will be allowed entry into shopping malls, cinema halls, marriage palaces, hotels, offices, banks, bus stands and railway stations from January 1. In Karnataka, New Year mass gatherings and celebrations have been banned across the state from December 30 to January 2. All New Year eve events at clubs, pubs and apartments have been banned. Entry of New Year revellers to Marina beach and other beaches in Chennai has been banned. Night curfew in 8 cities of Gujarat has been extended till December 31. Punjab government has decided not to disburse salaries to those employees who have not taken both the doses.
In Mumbai, though the number of Covid-19 cases is around 500 daily, the rate of spread seems to be faster. The new Omicron variant spreads faster, and from 2, it has spread to 236 in 20 days. Experts are predicting a third wave of Covid-19 cases in the month of February. Questions are being asked whether the third wave will be as lethal as the second one, whether there will again be acute scarcity of oxygen and hospital beds, and whether a full lockdown will be clamped again. Questions are being raised about whether a third booster dose is now required for all fully vaccinated people.
Long queues of people waiting for vaccine doses have been reported from the US and Australia. US President Joe Biden has announced that the government will send 50 crore rapid test kits for conducting door-to-door testing beginning next month. He plans to dispatch the military to shore up hospitals overwhelmed by Covid cases, as the US confronts a resurgent pandemic. In UK, where nearly 80 per cent people have taken double vaccine doses, 1,06,122 Covid cases were reported in the last 24 hours. The daily average is more than 90,000 cases. In Australia, long queues of people have been reported outside Covid testing clinics due to surge in number of cases.
But the sheer apathy among people in India is appalling. In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Wednesday night, we showed visuals of huge crowds of shoppers in Delhi’s major markets like Lajpat Nagar, Sarojini Nagar, Chandni Chowk and Laxmi Nagar. Many of the shoppers were moving around without masks among the crowds. Similar crowds of shoppers were noticed in Mumbai’s Crawford market and other markets. In Patna, the station market was crowded with shoppers, mostly moving around without masks. This is despite the Centre sending repeated advisories to the states to enforce Covid protocols strictly in public places.
I spoke to several senior doctors and medical experts today and most of them said, the pandemic threat exists, but nobody can say for certain, the probable extent of its spread, because fully vaccinated people are also getting infected with the Coronavirus. Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav’s wife Dimple Yadav tweeted on Wednesday that she and her daughter have been tested positive. In her tweet, she wrote, despite being vaccinated twice, she has been tested positive but has shown no symptoms till now. “I have put myself in self-quarantine and I request all who have come in contact with me recently to get themselves tested”, she wrote.
It is true that people are getting infected despite taking double doses, but the effect appears to be mild, and unless there are other critical diseases, the patient need not go to hospital. Those above the age of 70 years and have co-morbidities, may have to go to hospital, if infected. The virus could be lethal for them. There are experts who say that those who had taken double doses six months ago, may require a booster dose now. Since there is no shortage of vaccines in India now, booster vaccination can be ramped up on a large scale. Omicron variant spreads several times faster, but it appears to be not as lethal as the Delta variant that caused the second wave of pandemic in India in April-May this year.
The need of the hour is: caution. If people follow the standard protocol of wearing masks in public places, avoid crowded places and wash their hands frequently, they can protect themselves from the virus. In that case, there may not be shortage of beds and oxygen in hospitals. Experts in Covid management say, lockdown may not be necessary this time. This can happen only if there are no crowds in markets and public places otherwise the new Omicron variant may mutate fast and infect a large number of people. Surely, this could be a matter of serious concern, for all.
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