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Omicron: Europe-like surge may mean 1.4 mn cases a day

By Ruchika Chitravanshi
Last updated on: December 18, 2021 11:29 IST
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'We have to ensure the European situation does not occur in India and we don't see a spread like theirs.'

IMAGE: A 110-bed quarantine facility being set up at the Patliputra Sport Complex in Patna amid fear of the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. Photograph: PTI Photo

As the Omicron tally of India crossed 100 on Friday, the health ministry struck a note of caution saying it's a phase of worry for the country. India could see 1.3 to 1.4 million daily cases if the case progression is the same as what is being witnessed in some of the European countries such as the UK or France, Dr V K Paul, member-health, Niti Aayog, told reporters.

The variant is not widespread in India so far, the government has pointed out. "A new phase of pandemic is being experienced in Europe. We have to ensure the European situation does not occur in India and we don't see a spread like theirs. Conversely, we have to be prepared for this situation," Dr Paul said.

The UK recorded its highest daily cases on Wednesday crossing the 78,000 mark, prompting governments across the world to take notice. In India too, the government is keeping a close watch and making preparations in case of a health crisis.

It has also advised that all non-essential travel should be avoided and celebrations should be low key and with all precautions.

"We have to preserve the gains we have made. All cases detected so far are either with a travel history or have a travel contact. We are not in a situation where this is widespread," said Lav Agarwal, joint secretary, health ministry, while denying community spread of the variant in the country.

The Omicron variant has spread to 91 countries with more than 27,000 cases detected worldwide.

In India, 24 districts, which have more than 5 per cent test positivity rate, have to put restrictive measures in place till that number comes down. "Comprehensive preparedness is required for emerging potential scenarios with careful watch and proper ventilation. These measures will not go out of fashion," Dr Paul said.

On whether India is getting late in taking a decision about boosters at a time when several countries have given the third jab, Dr Paul said, "Have faith, we have no resource constraint. So the decision will be taken on epidemiology and scientific underpinning."

The booster dose has to be opted when there is appropriate evidence and time, he added.

Paul also said that it may be immature and scientifically incorrect at this stage to extrapolate current Omicron's India data for modelling to identify the real burden of the new variant.

The government has stressed that genome sequencing is being carried out sufficiently in a systematic manner and it has to be used as a surveillance tool. "Genomic sequencing is not a diagnostic tool. Every individual cannot be tested," Dr Paul said.

The Indian Council of Medical Research is also analysing data on antiviral pills to cure Covid but has not found enough scientific evidence to recommend its use. "We have found that these drugs have to be given even before the diagnosis. Scientific data does not support it in such a big way," Dr Balram Bhargava, director general, ICMR, said.

Dr Bhargava also said that scientific evidence showed that the initial antibody response provided by mRNA vaccines may be higher than the ones being used in India but the fall is also faster.

"Mix and match of doses is being debated...Basic philosophy of mRNA vaccine is that the immunity is higher but shorter, he said, adding, "This is also being debated."

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Ruchika Chitravanshi
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