As the fresh threats crop up, we as people feel unnerved and subjugated by the Virus and its ever-changing avatars. The freshest face- Omicron has put even vaccination, that we considered our strongest shield, under question. Will it ever end? Will life ever get back to normal?
The cases of the new Variant of Concern are increasing in India every day. The nearest station to J&K, and the one with which it has the highest traffic, Delhi, also has reported a case of this variant. The “threat” no longer seems remote and the “little known facts” about its impact and behavior do mandate a higher level of guard.
Whatever is known about Omicron till now tells us that the Virus, a highly mutated version of SARS-CoV2 is reportedly (as per South Africa) “highly contagious”. The World Health Organisation has shared its notes on Omicron and maintained, like always, that the fresh details are emerging and would be shared.
What is known as per WHO?
Transmissibility: It is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible (e.g., more easily spread from person to person) compared to other variants, including Delta. The number of people testing positive has risen in areas of South Africa affected by this variant, but epidemiologic studies are underway to understand if it is because of Omicron or other factors.
Severity of disease: It is not yet clear whether infection with Omicron causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants, including Delta. Preliminary data suggests that there are increasing rates of hospitalization in South Africa, but this may be due to increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than a result of specific infection with Omicron.
Symptoms: There is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those from other variants. Initial reported infections were among university students—younger individuals who tend to have more mild disease—but understanding the level of severity of the Omicron variant will take days to several weeks.
Effectiveness of vaccines: Vaccines remain critical to reducing severe disease and death, including against the dominant circulating variant, Delta. Current vaccines remain effective against severe disease and death.
Effectiveness of current tests: The widely used PCR tests continue to detect infection, including infection with Omicron, as we have seen with other variants as well.
Effectiveness of current treatments: Corticosteroids and IL6 Receptor Blockers will still be effective for managing patients with severe COVID-19. Other treatments will be assessed to see if they are still as effective given the changes to parts of the virus in the Omicron variant.
What holds true?
The case scenario brings home the importance of COVID19 Appropriate Behavior (CAB). In the past, when COVID19 made its debut in India, the extensive lockdown measures sent lives into a tizzy. The heartrending suffering of people who could not step out to earn a meal for themselves and their families will remain a blot on the CV of the Public Health and Safety planners of India. Such measures must not be repeated. However, the nearly two years gone by have shown that reduction in crowds and mixing and adoption of masks and hand hygiene continue to hold water even while the policies, strategies and viruses change.
The Kashmir scenario
A look at Kashmir’s streets and markets tells us that CAB is just a buzzword. While people in Kashmir, like people everywhere, would forget the existence of a Virus when not in news or in family, the enforcement agencies too seem to have forgotten to ensure safety of the masses.
Look at Srinagar district - the worst COVID19 case scenario, the highest population and the largest administrative set-up. This district has the least penalization of irresponsible behavior. An official document reveals that the fine per million population in Srinagar in the past few months is “Zero”. The largest crowds are seen in Srinagar only.
In districts like Udhampur, Samba, Reasi, Jammu, Kupwara and Ramban, more fine than the “target” has been imposed on people found to be violating the protocol of appropriate behavior. Incidentally, most of these districts have a far lower toll of COVID19, not even comparable to how Srinagar has suffered in terms of deaths and hospitalizations.
At Srinagar International Airport, everyone is being tested. Those with International travel history quarantined till their RT-PCR reports are available. The hundreds of passengers arriving in Srinagar and other districts via land routes escape this “mandatory” confinement. They can even escape rapid antigen testing by tweaking the time of crossing the check points. Even those who have undergone a test less than 48 hours back are also made to go through the gruel.
With such a system in place, one is forced to think if the administration and Government is unaware of how its enforcement drives are failing and why they are failing. One is also forced to wonder what can be done to ensure better adoption of protocols by people.
Perhaps constant enforcement efforts at all places and in all districts and logic-driven approach to testing and quarantine would help save a surge. Perhaps, a re-look is needed into our COVID19 management strategy.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.