People should not take the Omicron variant of coronavirus as lightly as common flu and must follow precautions like social distancing, members of the Gujarat government's Covid-19 task force said in Ahmedabad on Wednesday.
A day after Gujarat recorded its highest one-day surge of 17,119 new cases, five eminent doctors who are members of the task force spoke to the media.
Omicron infections do not require hospitalisations the way it was seen during the second wave, but as the variant is spreading faster, a lot of people can still end up in hospitals, they said.
As much as 70-80 per cent of Covid-19 cases being reported in Gujarat are of the Omicron variant, said Health Minister Rushikesh Patel who along with Additional Chief Secretary (Health) Manoj Aggarwal was present on the occasion.
"Do not make the mistake of taking Omicron as (lightly as) the common flu. The manner in which the cases are rising, it is possible that hospitalisations will increase. Children and others who have not been inoculated need to be specially careful, and those who have not taken the vaccine should take it immediately," said Dr Sudhir Shah.
To bring the spread of infections under control, we will have "to take recourse to our original weapons" which are vaccination, face mask, hand sanitation and social distancing, said Dr Shah, who is a neurologist.
Infectious diseases specialist Dr Atul Patel said the entire population of Gujarat was susceptible to catching the infection of the new variant, and therefore "it is not a virus to be taken lightly."
"The need for hospitalisation is very low, at hardly 1-2 per cent. But that is no reason to relax, as Omicron spreads very fast, and if the number of cases rises in lakhs, then even 1-2 per cent ending up in hospitals will be a large number," he said.
A large number of people getting vaccinated in Gujarat was a matter of "great relief," Dr Patel added.
He also said that Remdesivir can still be a highly effective drug for preventing hospitalisation of high-risk patients.
Public health expert Dr Dileep Mavalankar said social distancing remains the most effective way to prevent the spread of the virus along with proper use of face masks.
"Do not go out unnecessarily, and do not cause crowding. Take immediate recourse (to precautions) after cough symptoms. (Practice) Self-isolation and wearing masks even at home....elderly people should stay away from young members who go out for work," he said.
"If we control this new wave, we can hope for the pandemic to wane, unless a new variant emerges. We have to remain alert from a mild variant, but there is no need to panic," Dr Mavalankar added.
Diabetologist Dr V N Shah said people should not believe myths surrounding the virus and make the mistake of considering it a version of common flu.
Dr Tushar Patel said there was a need for people to remain alert, but "there is no need for unnecessary panic."
Health minister Patel said the people should follow the standard operating procedure (SOP) issued by the government from time to time.
"As the experts said, the virus is of mild variety, so we have not seen any casualties. But we should follow social distancing, wear masks, and get vaccinated, so that the elderly at home do not get in trouble," he said.