Omicron News

China’s latest source of unrest: Unpaid ‘zero Covid’ workers
The Indian Express | 2 weeks ago | |
The Indian Express
2 weeks ago | |

Written by David Pierson, Keith Bradsher and Muyi XiaoAfter China’s abrupt reversal of “zero Covid” restrictions, the nation’s vast machinery of virus surveillance and testing collapsed, even as infections and deaths surged. Now, authorities face another problem: Angry pandemic-control workers demanding wages and jobs.In the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing, hundreds of workers locked in a pay dispute with a Covid test kit manufacturer hurled objects at police officers in riot gear, who held up shields as they retreated. Standing on stocks of inventory, protesters kicked and tossed boxes of rapid antigen tests on to the ground, sending thousands of tests spilling.In the eastern city of Hangzhou, witnesses said several workers climbed on the roof of a test kit factory and threatened to jump to protest unpaid furloughs. And at a separate test manufacturing plant in the city, workers protested for days over a wage dispute.The unrest this month highlights a little-noticed aspect of the social and economic fallout from China’s “zero Covid” policy U-turn. Mass testing was a cornerstone of China’s strategy of isolating the virus before it could spread. But Covid testing of any sort is no longer in high demand. Companies that manufactured test kits and analysed results in a lab are seeing their revenues plummet, leading to layoffs and pay cuts for their workers. One report suggested that mass testing in large cities accounted for about 1.3% of China’s economic output.The consequence has been a new source of turmoil that challenges the ruling Communist Party’s efforts to maintain stability amid high youth unemployment, a flagging economy and an explosion of Covid across the country. China said on Saturday that it had recorded nearly 60,000 fatalities linked to the coronavirus in the month since it lifted “zero Covid,” though experts said the actual death toll was likely much higher.The New York Times visited three Covid test making factories in Hangzhou where workers and residents confirmed that there had been labor protests in recent days. At one plant operated by a firm called Xinyue Biotech, a fire truck, an ambulance and a police van could be seen in the factory yard on Wednesday responding to a worker who had climbed on to the fifth-floor roof and threatened to jump to protest unpaid wages. The shuttered plant had been the scene of days of demonstrations, witnesses near the factory said.The Times also examined videos that have circulated on social media of protests in Hangzhou as well as Chongqing, where workers confronted the police in large numbers.The disputes in Chongqing and Hangzhou could portend more unrest to come. Many among China’s armies of “big whites,” low-level government workers charged with enforcing Covid restrictions and named after their signature white hazmat suits, have been let go, muddying an already volatile labor market.Factories across China are still strapped for cash amid the broader slowdown. Workers have next to no recourse to resolve their grievances other than to lash out, said Li Qiang, founder and executive director of China Labor Watch, a New York-based Chinese labor rights group.“These protests have been very violent because the channels to defend workers’ rights are very limited, while the trust toward the government and laws is low,” Li said. “It demonstrates that if a company ignores workers rights, especially the most vulnerable temporary workers, it will face serious consequences.”In Chongqing, protesters at a test kit manufacturer chanted “Pay me back” as they faced off with lines of police on Jan. 7. It was not immediately clear what sparked the dispute between workers and the test kit manufacturer, Zybio. Videos posted on social media leading up to the protests warned of labor agencies in the area exploiting job seekers by inflating how much work Covid test manufacturers were offering and how much they would pay.The Times verified the location of the Zybio protest videos by matching buildings in videos with online photos and satellite images of the industrial park. One clip showed protesters throwing plastic containers, stools and a traffic cone at police equipped with riot gear. The company did not respond to requests for comment, and several protesters contacted by The Times declined to be interviewed.In Hangzhou, protests flared after workers at the Acon Biotech plant were told at the start of this month they would be furloughed for two weeks because the company’s revenues had dwindled since “zero Covid” measures were dropped.One employee who participated in the protests, who agreed to speak only if not quoted by name given the political sensitivity of labor unrest, said workers were enraged by the furlough because it meant they could not earn money before the Lunar New Year, which starts this weekend.At one point, distraught employees threatened to jump off the roof of a company building. The workers were finally given 3,000 yuan, or roughly $445, apiece a week ago, and the bulk of the workforce then left for the holiday.Many Chinese testing companies had been amassing fortunes during nearly three years of stringent COVID containment measures. But the emergence of the highly transmissible omicron variant made containing the virus all but impossible, and China abandoned the strategy in early December.Even without omicron, China’s strategy of mass testing was proving financially unsustainable. Many local governments — already under significant financial pressure from the slowdown and a dearth of land sales for real estate development — struggled to pay for the millions of free swabs that residents were ordered to take virtually every day.To fund testing and other pandemic controls, money was diverted from public projects in some provinces, while cities cut bonuses for officials and imposed pay cuts on civil servants. Several provinces and municipalities, including Guizhou in China’s southwest, began charging for the tests.Lab testing firms that earlier reaped huge windfalls began reporting that governments were late on payments, leaving them exposed to bad debt. Among them was Dian Diagnostics, a large testing company in Hangzhou, which reported in October that the amount of money it was owed had surged by nearly 80% compared with a year before.Shenzhen Hezi Gene Tech, another fast-growing testing firm, opened six new labs across China in October only to shutter half of them in the last few weeks. It was unclear if the closures were spurred by debt or a lack of business. The company did not respond to a request for comment.“The whole industry has been hit particularly hard with the elimination of mandatory testing in the country. The demand is no longer there,” said Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, who argued that “zero Covid” had been partly prolonged because it served so many business interests.“They made a lot of money working for the government implementing ‘zero Covid,’” Huang said of labs and test manufacturers.Just how disruptive the collapse of testing and all the employment associated with Covid controls will be to China’s economy remains to be seen. The lifting of “zero Covid” will remove constraints on economic activity, and that could spur growth that would overshadow the loss of Covid-related businesses, said Taylor Loeb, a senior economic analyst for Trivium China, a consulting firm.“A lot of these jobs were never going to be long-term, stable employment opportunities,” Loeb said.To many migrant workers, the timing could not be worse. Employees are usually eyeing bonuses and counting their savings in the weeks leading up to Lunar New Year so that they can travel home for the holiday, settle debts and lavish their family and friends with gifts.In Hangzhou, a tense standoff between the police and hundreds of workers at an Alltest Biotech factory devolved into a shoving match Jan. 9, a video showed. Dozens of them were taken away by the police, several eyewitnesses said in interviews.Workers hired by a temporary employment agency on Alltest’s behalf had complained they were being paid less than permanent workers, according to an employee interviewed at the factory gate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. An employee who answered a phone at Alltest said operations had returned to normal, but declined to provide a name or discuss the unrest.

China’s latest source of unrest: Unpaid ‘zero Covid’ workers
Omicron sub-variant BF.7 found in several Covid-positive samples of int’l passengers: Mansukh Mandaviya
The Indian Express | 2 weeks ago | |
The Indian Express
2 weeks ago | |

Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya on Wednesday said the Omicron sub-variant, BF.7, has been found in several of the 200 Covid-positive samples of international air passengers that have so far been genome-sequenced.More than 15 lakh international air passengers have so far been screened and 200 of them have tested positive for COVID-19, Mandaviya said on the sidelines of a book launch.The minister released a book titled “Braving A Viral Storm”, which has been authored by Aashish Chandorkar and Suraj Sudhir, at the Constitution Club here on Wednesday.“The genome-sequencing of the 200 samples showed that the BF.7 variant was present in several passengers. Our vaccines are effective against this sub-variant,” he said.The health ministry had, on January 9, said the sentinel-sequencing of 324 Covid-positive samples lifted from the community between December 29 and January 7 had revealed the presence of all the Omicron variants, such as BA.2 and its sub-lineages including BA.2.75, XBB(37), BQ.1 and BQ.1.1(5), among others.No mortality or rise in transmission was reported in the areas where these variants were detected, the ministry had said in a statement.Besides, XBB(11), BQ.1.1(12) and BF7.4.1(1) were the main variants detected in the positive samples of 50 international passengers that have so far been genome-sequenced

Omicron sub-variant BF.7 found in several Covid-positive samples of int’l passengers: Mansukh Mandaviya
COVID-19: Covovax to get approval as booster in 10-15 days, says SII CEO Adar Poonawalla
The Indian Express | 3 weeks ago | |
The Indian Express
3 weeks ago | |

Serum Institute of India chief executive officer Adar Poonawalla on Sunday said its Covovax vaccine will get approval as a booster in the next 10 to 15 days, adding it works well against the Omicron variant of coronavirus.Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of an event at Bharti Vidyapeeth University here, Poonawalla, when asked about states and districts not getting Covishield vaccines, said there are ample stocks with the Union government for supply.“Covovax will be approved as a booster in the next 10-15 days. It is actually the best booster because it works very well against Omicron, more than Covishield,” said Poonawalla.He said everyone was looking at India, not just in terms of healthcare but because the country managed to take care of a huge and diverse population and also helped 70 to 80 nations during the COVID-19 pandemic.“This was all possible because of the leadership of our Central government, our state governments, healthcare workers, manufacturers, all of whom worked together with one common goal,” he said.Poonawalla was conferred the first Dr Pantangrao Kadam Memorial Award at the hands of NCP Chief Sharad Pawar and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis in an event to mark Kadam’s birth anniversary.Appealing to students who wished to pursue education abroad, he said there was no place like India to fulfil dreams due to the presence of institutions like Bharti Vidyapeeth and others.“Even if you have to go abroad, come back as soon as possible,” he said.

COVID-19: Covovax to get approval as booster in 10-15 days, says SII CEO Adar Poonawalla
As ‘great migration’ kicks off under Covid shadow, China expects over 2 billion people to travel over next 40 days
The Indian Express | 3 weeks ago | |
The Indian Express
3 weeks ago | |

China on Saturday marked the first day of “chun yun”, the 40-day period of Lunar New Year travel known pre-pandemic as the world’s largest annual migration of people, bracing for a huge increase in travelers and the spread of Covid-19 infections.This Lunar New Year public holiday, which officially runs from Jan. 21, will be the first since 2020 without domestic travel restrictions. Over the last month China has seen the dramatic dismantling of its “zero-Covid” regime following historic protests against a policy that included frequent testing, restricted movement, mass lockdowns and heavy damage to the world’s No.2 economy. Investors are hoping that the reopening will eventually reinvigorate a $17-trillion economy suffering its lowest growth in nearly half a century.But the abrupt changes have exposed many of China’s 1.4 billion population to the virus for the first time, triggering a wave of infections that is overwhelming some hospitals, emptying pharmacy shelves of medicines and causing long lines to form at crematoriums. The Ministry of Transport said on Friday that it expects more than 2 billion passengers to take trips over the next 40 days, an increase of 99.5% year-on-year and reaching 70.3% of trip numbers in 2019.There was mixed reaction online to that news, with some comments hailing the freedom to return to hometowns and celebrate the Lunar New Year with family for the first time in years. Many others, however, said they would not travel this year, with worry of infecting elderly relatives a common theme.“I dare not go back to my hometown, for fear of bringing the poison back,” said one such comment on the Twitter-like Weibo.Also Read |BF.7 and BA.5.2: The Omicron sub-variants driving the China surgeThere are widespread concerns that the great migration of workers in cities to their hometowns will cause a surge in infections in smaller towns and rural areas that are less well-equipped with ICU beds and ventilators to deal with them. Authorities say they are boosting grassroots medical services, opening more rural fever clinics and instituting a “green channel” for high risk patients, especially elderly people with underlying health conditions, to be transferred from villages directly to higher level hospitals.“China’s rural areas are wide, the population is large, and the per capita medical resources are relatively insufficient,” National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng said on Saturday.“It’s necessary to provide convenient services, accelerate vaccination for the elderly in rural areas and the construction of grassroots lines of defense.”INFECTION PEAK REACHEDSome analysts are now saying the current wave of infections may have already peaked.  Ernan Cui, an analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics in Beijing, cited several online surveys as indicating that rural areas were already more widely exposed to Covid infections than initially thought, with an infection peak already reached in most regions, noting there was “not much difference between urban and rural areas.”On Sunday China will reopen its border with Hong Kong and will also end a requirement for travelers coming from abroad to quarantine. That effectively opens the door for many Chinese to travel abroad for the first time since borders slammed shut nearly three years ago, without fear of having to quarantine on their return.More than a dozen countries are now demanding Covid tests from travellers from China. The World Health Organization said on Wednesday that China’s Covid data underrepresents the number of hospitalizations and deaths from the disease. Chinese officials and state media have defended the handling of the outbreak, playing down the severity of the surge and denouncing foreign travel requirements for its residents.On Saturday in Hong Kong, people who had made appointments had to queue for about 90 minutes at a Centre for PCR tests needed for travel to countries including mainland China.Also Read |What is BF.7, the Omicron sub-variant driving the new surge in China?TREATMENT TO THE FOREFor much of the pandemic, China poured resources into a vast PCR testing program to track and trace Covid-19 cases, but the focus is now shifting to vaccines and treatment. In Shanghai, for example, the city government on Friday announced an end to free PCR tests for residents from Jan. 8.A circular published by four government ministries Saturday signaled a reallocation of financial resources to treatment, outlining a plan for public finances to subsidies 60% of treatment costs until March 31.  Meanwhile, sources told Reuters that China is in talks with Pfizer Inc to secure a license that will allow domestic drugmakers to manufacture and distribute a generic version of the U.S. firm’s Covid antiviral drug Paxlovid in China.Many Chinese have been attempting to buy the drug abroad and have it shipped to China. On the vaccine front, China’s CanSino Biologics Inc announced it has begun trial production for its Covid mRNA booster vaccine, known as CS-2034.  China has relied on nine domestically-developed vaccines approved for use, including inactivated vaccines, but none have been adapted to target the highly-transmissible Omicron variant and its offshoots currently in circulation.The overall vaccination rate in the country is above 90%, but the rate for adults who have had booster shots drops to 57.9%, and to 42.3% for people aged 80 and older, according to government data released last month. China reported three new Covid  deaths in the mainland for Friday, bringing its official virus death toll since the pandemic began to 5,267, one of the lowest in the world.  International health experts believe Beijing’s narrow definition of Covid  deaths does not reflect a true toll, and some predict more than a million deaths this year.

As ‘great migration’ kicks off under Covid shadow, China expects over 2 billion people to travel over next 40 days
  • China's ‘great migration’ kicks off under shadow of Covid
  • The Indian Express

    China on Saturday marked the first day of “chun yun”, the 40-day period of Lunar New Year travel known pre-pandemic as the world’s largest annual migration of people, bracing for a huge increase in travelers and the spread of Covid-19 infections.This Lunar New Year public holiday, which officially runs from Jan. 21, will be the first since 2020 without domestic travel restrictions. Over the last month China has seen the dramatic dismantling of its “zero-Covid” regime following historic protests against a policy that included frequent testing, restricted movement, mass lockdowns and heavy damage to the world’s No.2 economy. Investors are hoping that the reopening will eventually reinvigorate a $17-trillion economy suffering its lowest growth in nearly half a century.But the abrupt changes have exposed many of China’s 1.4 billion population to the virus for the first time, triggering a wave of infections that is overwhelming some hospitals, emptying pharmacy shelves of medicines and causing long lines to form at crematoriums. The Ministry of Transport said on Friday that it expects more than 2 billion passengers to take trips over the next 40 days, an increase of 99.5% year-on-year and reaching 70.3% of trip numbers in 2019.There was mixed reaction online to that news, with some comments hailing the freedom to return to hometowns and celebrate the Lunar New Year with family for the first time in years. Many others, however, said they would not travel this year, with worry of infecting elderly relatives a common theme.“I dare not go back to my hometown, for fear of bringing the poison back,” said one such comment on the Twitter-like Weibo.Also Read |BF.7 and BA.5.2: The Omicron sub-variants driving the China surgeThere are widespread concerns that the great migration of workers in cities to their hometowns will cause a surge in infections in smaller towns and rural areas that are less well-equipped with ICU beds and ventilators to deal with them. Authorities say they are boosting grassroots medical services, opening more rural fever clinics and instituting a “green channel” for high risk patients, especially elderly people with underlying health conditions, to be transferred from villages directly to higher level hospitals.“China’s rural areas are wide, the population is large, and the per capita medical resources are relatively insufficient,” National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng said on Saturday.“It’s necessary to provide convenient services, accelerate vaccination for the elderly in rural areas and the construction of grassroots lines of defense.”INFECTION PEAK REACHEDSome analysts are now saying the current wave of infections may have already peaked.  Ernan Cui, an analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics in Beijing, cited several online surveys as indicating that rural areas were already more widely exposed to Covid infections than initially thought, with an infection peak already reached in most regions, noting there was “not much difference between urban and rural areas.”On Sunday China will reopen its border with Hong Kong and will also end a requirement for travelers coming from abroad to quarantine. That effectively opens the door for many Chinese to travel abroad for the first time since borders slammed shut nearly three years ago, without fear of having to quarantine on their return.More than a dozen countries are now demanding Covid tests from travellers from China. The World Health Organization said on Wednesday that China’s Covid data underrepresents the number of hospitalizations and deaths from the disease. Chinese officials and state media have defended the handling of the outbreak, playing down the severity of the surge and denouncing foreign travel requirements for its residents.On Saturday in Hong Kong, people who had made appointments had to queue for about 90 minutes at a Centre for PCR tests needed for travel to countries including mainland China.Also Read |What is BF.7, the Omicron sub-variant driving the new surge in China?TREATMENT TO THE FOREFor much of the pandemic, China poured resources into a vast PCR testing program to track and trace Covid-19 cases, but the focus is now shifting to vaccines and treatment. In Shanghai, for example, the city government on Friday announced an end to free PCR tests for residents from Jan. 8.A circular published by four government ministries Saturday signaled a reallocation of financial resources to treatment, outlining a plan for public finances to subsidies 60% of treatment costs until March 31.  Meanwhile, sources told Reuters that China is in talks with Pfizer Inc to secure a license that will allow domestic drugmakers to manufacture and distribute a generic version of the U.S. firm’s Covid antiviral drug Paxlovid in China.Many Chinese have been attempting to buy the drug abroad and have it shipped to China. On the vaccine front, China’s CanSino Biologics Inc announced it has begun trial production for its Covid mRNA booster vaccine, known as CS-2034.  China has relied on nine domestically-developed vaccines approved for use, including inactivated vaccines, but none have been adapted to target the highly-transmissible Omicron variant and its offshoots currently in circulation.The overall vaccination rate in the country is above 90%, but the rate for adults who have had booster shots drops to 57.9%, and to 42.3% for people aged 80 and older, according to government data released last month. China reported three new Covid  deaths in the mainland for Friday, bringing its official virus death toll since the pandemic began to 5,267, one of the lowest in the world.  International health experts believe Beijing’s narrow definition of Covid  deaths does not reflect a true toll, and some predict more than a million deaths this year.

Avoid panic on Omicron sub-variant XBB 1.5, focus on genome sequencing: Experts
The Indian Express | 3 weeks ago | |
The Indian Express
3 weeks ago | |

Top experts have reiterated the need to be vigilant and avoid panic as the US-based Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention indicates that the Omicron sub-variant XBB.1.5 has led to a rise in cases in the US.Experts have stressed the need for a higher genome-sequencing in the country as INSACOG (Indian SARS CoV2 Genomics Consortium) data has shown up five positive samples for the XBB.1.5 sub-variant. Says noted virologist, Dr Gagandeep Kang, “XBB.1.5 is now more than two-third of all cases in the USA. Since XBB and further sub-lineages have evolved in immunised populations, we should expect them to be able to infect more easily and that is what they are doing. Infection with BA.5 seems to give some protection against infection with XBB. There is not much difference with severe disease, so we can expect a fair number of infections. Severe disease will continue in known risk groups.”The XBB.1.5 variant of Covid is actually a sub-variant of XBB. It is a combination of BA.2.75 and BA.2.10.1 and was first reported in India.It is considered more contagious than BF.7, which is driving the current spate of infections in China. It has a greater immune-escape potential.According to Sanjay Pujari, member of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) task force, “the XBB.1.5 is a recombinant of the Omicron’s BA.2 sub-variants. This has originated in the USA and the rate of transmission (RT) is 1.8.Reports are indicating that most hospitalisations are in the elderly population and those who have not taken the booster dose vaccination. So far in India all five cases had mild illness and have recovered well.” He points out that one cannot generalise how geography-specific sub-variants will behave and hence genomic surveillance is important.Dr Rajesh Karyakarte, coordinator for genome sequencing in Maharashtra, explains that in the USA, a descendant of XBB — that is XBB.1.5 — is replacing the previously dominating BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 sub lineages. Currently XBB.1.5 is growing in New York ahead of others. “We have already seen in Maharashtra that XBB is the most dominant variant and has not allowed BA.5 and its sublineages like BQ.1 to dominate. XBB already has greater immune evasiveness than others and adds more mutations. For example XBB.1.5 ,” says he.In Maharashtra, no case of the XBB.1.5 sub variant has been recorded so far. Over the last several months, the state has already reported 270 cases of the XBB and top surveillance officer Dr Pradeep Awate told The Indian Express that there has not been a significant rise in cases. These are sublineages and overall the infection has been a mild one.Dr Shashank Joshi, noted endocrinologist and diabetologist at Lilavati Hospital, Mumbai, argues for vigilance as there seems to be no clinical correlation in terms of hospitalisation and deaths. “There should be no panic at all as all these are Omicron sub-lineages. However it is important to keep a check on cold, cough and respiratory illnesses which are common this time of the year,” he adds.

Avoid panic on Omicron sub-variant XBB 1.5, focus on genome sequencing: Experts
‘It took me 65 days to recover from my third bout of COVID-19. Why am I getting the virus in every wave?’ asks survivor
The Indian Express | 4 weeks ago | |
The Indian Express
4 weeks ago | |

Thirty-year-old Tanu Dogra dreads getting another round of COVID-19 as she has had it three times already, during every wave, and has been left with battling a leftover symptom and a much compromised body that has meant making adjustments in her work life. “I don’t have it in me to take it anymore,” says Dogra, who has had cumulative weight loss (she weighed 75 kg and can rarely go above 60 kg over the last two years) episodes of brain freeze and forgetfulness, has 70 per cent taste and smell functions and crumbles in a heap after a moderate day at work. Twenty eight-year-old Srishti Sharma, who has also battled three rounds of the virus, dreads every seasonal change as she invariably gets fever, which shoots up to 103 degrees, a persistent cough that never goes away before a month and has patchy sleep. What makes their story different is that they didn’t come back from the brink or had to be hospitalized that could easily explain their long Covid effects. Their infection seemed symptomatically milder but had done an equal damage and left them with no immunity shield.As Dr Nikhil Modi, Consultant, Pulmonology and Respiratory Medicine, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, says, “There is no concrete finding yet as to why certain people get recurrent infections but the genetic make-up of each individual is different as is their immunity. Some develop long-standing antibodies that can counter the virus, some do not. And as the coronavirus mutates rapidly, the changed strain may not be covered by antibodies already formed in the body. That, however, doesn’t mean that such people cannot control the infection once they get it. Recurrent COVID 19 infection is a new clinical entity and is rarely diagnosed. Research has shown it can occur due to reactivation of primary infection or reinfection by SARS-CoV-2 in patients who fail to develop antibodies against primary infection.”Also, studies on long COVID are ongoing and there is still no concrete finding if recurrent infections are part of long COVID. “What we do know is that long COVID lasts up to a year. And we are seeing COVID survivors become susceptible to other viruses as well, causing them to fall sick frequently.”Dogra, a publicist in the publishing industry had three bouts of Covid, during Delta (March-end 2021), Omicron (January 2022) and then Omicron which turned to a case of pneumonia onset in August-September 2022, the last being the least expected. “For context, I’m a primary caregiver for my father, who’s fighting an advanced case of pancreatic cancer and we frequent the hospital every week/fortnight. Therefore, we are more exposed to infections and Covid in general despite all precautions in place. Still, he got the infection once while I had it thrice. I was treated at home all three times and didn’t need oxygen. Except in the third episode, I had to be on nebulisation for a month,” says she.Describing her symptoms, Dogra says, “My symptoms in episode 1 were classic delta — high fever, shortness of breath, loose motions, body pains, no olfactory sense for over 45 days but I had no cough. Symptoms in episode 2 were much better as Omicron wasn’t meant to be challenging and by now, we’d had two doses of the vaccine. I had fever and cold for a week with some body pain. Symptoms in episode 3 started off mild but by the second week, I really struggled to breathe. When I complained of wheezing even while breathing normally, I was asked to get an HRCT again, which showed pleural thickening on both lungs with upper lobe that had a focal dense area. This resulted in nebulisation with steaming (as I suffer from sinusitis too) and steroids. Long Covid is not a myth and the third tryst made me realise how unfit my body was. I couldn’t sustain another hit if it were a possibility in the future. I had cumulative weight loss, forgetfulness, episodes of brain freeze. I struggled with work and memory in general and as a primary care giver to my father, it took a toll on me. It took me 65 days to recover from my third bout. I’m much better now but my appetite remains to be grey, and other health concerns continue, especially the lack of/failure to build immunity.”Doctors have never been able to give a satisfactory explanation for Dogra’s condition except that her immunity has been badly compromised. “I can no longer have three of my favourite foods, rice, coffee and potato, something I could gorge on every day. Now my belly churns thinking of them. My taste and smell come and go and are on good days about 70 per cent. My weight doesn’t go up at all beyond 62 and I definitely have lost the energy I had two years ago. My sinuses get activated at the smallest provocation,” says Dogra who has now opted for a hybrid routine for work . When she was laid up in bed during Delta, she had even coordinated COVID relief as an online volunteer.Sharma got infected with COVID-19 for the first time in March 2021. “I kept on testing negative but my symptoms wouldn’t disappear. I tested positive only after 21 days. Post- recovery in the first phase, frequent headaches and acute weakness stayed with me for over a month. The cough was not gone either. When I got infected the second time in December 2021, my fever was mild but I experienced heavy coughing. Not only that, I suffered major hair loss and peeling of dry skin. Got infected the third time in August, 2022 with mild manifestations and tested negative in five days. But my coughing wouldn’t stop and lasted a month,” says Sharma, who works with a hospital. Well-informed, she has done a chest CT to rule out lung disorders whenever she has had non-stop coughing bouts. “But they didn’t show up anything alarming. So I now manage my cough with gargles and steaming, live with it,” says she.Sharma, who has been fully vaccinated now, feels her immunity system has taken a permanent hit. “A very mild change in weather means I suffer from high fever, no less than 103 degrees with persistent coughing. I end up using my sick leaves this way. I certainly do not have the energy that I once had,” she adds. And after two years, life is still a limping struggle to get back to normal for these two young women.

‘It took me 65 days to recover from my third bout of COVID-19. Why am I getting the virus in every wave?’ asks survivor
  • ‘It took me 65 days to recover from third bout of Covid. Why am I getting the virus in every wave?’
  • The Indian Express

    Thirty-year-old Tanu Dogra dreads getting another round of COVID-19 as she has had it three times already, during every wave, and has been left with battling a leftover symptom and a much compromised body that has meant making adjustments in her work life. “I don’t have it in me to take it anymore,” says Dogra, who has had cumulative weight loss (she weighed 75 kg and can rarely go above 60 kg over the last two years) episodes of brain freeze and forgetfulness, has 70 per cent taste and smell functions and crumbles in a heap after a moderate day at work. Twenty eight-year-old Srishti Sharma, who has also battled three rounds of the virus, dreads every seasonal change as she invariably gets fever, which shoots up to 103 degrees, a persistent cough that never goes away before a month and has patchy sleep. What makes their story different is that they didn’t come back from the brink or had to be hospitalized that could easily explain their long Covid effects. Their infection seemed symptomatically milder but had done an equal damage and left them with no immunity shield.As Dr Nikhil Modi, Consultant, Pulmonology and Respiratory Medicine, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, says, “There is no concrete finding yet as to why certain people get recurrent infections but the genetic make-up of each individual is different as is their immunity. Some develop long-standing antibodies that can counter the virus, some do not. And as the coronavirus mutates rapidly, the changed strain may not be covered by antibodies already formed in the body. That, however, doesn’t mean that such people cannot control the infection once they get it. Recurrent COVID 19 infection is a new clinical entity and is rarely diagnosed. Research has shown it can occur due to reactivation of primary infection or reinfection by SARS-CoV-2 in patients who fail to develop antibodies against primary infection.”Also, studies on long COVID are ongoing and there is still no concrete finding if recurrent infections are part of long COVID. “What we do know is that long COVID lasts up to a year. And we are seeing COVID survivors become susceptible to other viruses as well, causing them to fall sick frequently.”Dogra, a publicist in the publishing industry had three bouts of Covid, during Delta (March-end 2021), Omicron (January 2022) and then Omicron which turned to a case of pneumonia onset in August-September 2022, the last being the least expected. “For context, I’m a primary caregiver for my father, who’s fighting an advanced case of pancreatic cancer and we frequent the hospital every week/fortnight. Therefore, we are more exposed to infections and Covid in general despite all precautions in place. Still, he got the infection once while I had it thrice. I was treated at home all three times and didn’t need oxygen. Except in the third episode, I had to be on nebulisation for a month,” says she.Describing her symptoms, Dogra says, “My symptoms in episode 1 were classic delta — high fever, shortness of breath, loose motions, body pains, no olfactory sense for over 45 days but I had no cough. Symptoms in episode 2 were much better as Omicron wasn’t meant to be challenging and by now, we’d had two doses of the vaccine. I had fever and cold for a week with some body pain. Symptoms in episode 3 started off mild but by the second week, I really struggled to breathe. When I complained of wheezing even while breathing normally, I was asked to get an HRCT again, which showed pleural thickening on both lungs with upper lobe that had a focal dense area. This resulted in nebulisation with steaming (as I suffer from sinusitis too) and steroids. Long Covid is not a myth and the third tryst made me realise how unfit my body was. I couldn’t sustain another hit if it were a possibility in the future. I had cumulative weight loss, forgetfulness, episodes of brain freeze. I struggled with work and memory in general and as a primary care giver to my father, it took a toll on me. It took me 65 days to recover from my third bout. I’m much better now but my appetite remains to be grey, and other health concerns continue, especially the lack of/failure to build immunity.”Doctors have never been able to give a satisfactory explanation for Dogra’s condition except that her immunity has been badly compromised. “I can no longer have three of my favourite foods, rice, coffee and potato, something I could gorge on every day. Now my belly churns thinking of them. My taste and smell come and go and are on good days about 70 per cent. My weight doesn’t go up at all beyond 62 and I definitely have lost the energy I had two years ago. My sinuses get activated at the smallest provocation,” says Dogra who has now opted for a hybrid routine for work . When she was laid up in bed during Delta, she had even coordinated COVID relief as an online volunteer.Sharma got infected with COVID-19 for the first time in March 2021. “I kept on testing negative but my symptoms wouldn’t disappear. I tested positive only after 21 days. Post- recovery in the first phase, frequent headaches and acute weakness stayed with me for over a month. The cough was not gone either. When I got infected the second time in December 2021, my fever was mild but I experienced heavy coughing. Not only that, I suffered major hair loss and peeling of dry skin. Got infected the third time in August, 2022 with mild manifestations and tested negative in five days. But my coughing wouldn’t stop and lasted a month,” says Sharma, who works with a hospital. Well-informed, she has done a chest CT to rule out lung disorders whenever she has had non-stop coughing bouts. “But they didn’t show up anything alarming. So I now manage my cough with gargles and steaming, live with it,” says she.Sharma, who has been fully vaccinated now, feels her immunity system has taken a permanent hit. “A very mild change in weather means I suffer from high fever, no less than 103 degrees with persistent coughing. I end up using my sick leaves this way. I certainly do not have the energy that I once had,” she adds. And after two years, life is still a limping struggle to get back to normal for these two young women.

Why a fresh national Covid wave is unlikely in IndiaPremium Story
The Indian Express | 1 month ago | |
The Indian Express
1 month ago | |

The biggest and ongoing Covid-19 wave in China has started speculations about a fourth wave in India. There have been high-level meetings at the national and state levels, mock drills and some advisories based on speculation. Understandably, this has created a bit of panic and apprehension among citizens. Is a fresh national Covid wave in India a real possibility? Let’s examine the issue objectively.A disease outbreak or an epidemic – in any setting or country – is the outcome of complex interactions between the “epidemiologic triad” of the agent, host and environment factors. In Covid-19, the agent is the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2. The hosts are the people and the factors linked to them such as the susceptibility pool, population-level immunity, age distribution, burden of co-morbidities, etc. The environmental/external factors are the level of social and commercial activities, travel, and any prevalent infection that may interfere with the spread of diseases.SARS CoV2- in early 2020 had epidemic and pandemic potential. Back then, it was a new pathogen with high transmissibility to which the entire population was susceptible. However, three years later, the virus is not novel anymore, and people are protected from moderate to severe disease due to prior natural infection or vaccination and in most cases, both. More specifically for India, after three Covid-19 waves, an estimated 95 per cent or more of India’s population — across all age groups, including children — have been naturally infected at least once and 97 per cent of adults have received at least one shot of the Covid-19 vaccines. By the end of 2022, an estimated 98 per cent or more of India’s population has developed immunity and thus, have a very low risk of moderate to severe disease.Yet, a fresh surge or spike in Covid-19 cannot be completely ruled out. However, a fresh national wave in India is possible only if there are major changes in one or more components of the epidemiologic triad. Has the Covid wave in China changed the situation for India? In the agent factor, Omicron (B.1.1.529) and its sub-lineages such as XBB, and BF.7 are spreading in China. The Omicron strain caused the third wave in India and its sub-lineages have been present and circulating in the country for a few months. In the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, new waves have always been caused by the emergence of new variants of concern (VoC). The same VoC is not known to cause another wave in the same settings. Therefore, considering there is no new VoC reported, the agent factor remains unchanged for India.Among the host factors, since the third wave in January 2022, additional people have received Covid vaccines and precaution doses. Alongside, Omicron and its sub-lineages have continued to cause asymptomatic infections. Even if we factor in the decline in antibody levels since vaccination or natural infection, regular natural exposure to sub-lineages is likely to have balanced that, as evident from the low rate of moderate to severe Covid cases. Arguably, the susceptible pool of people has been further reduced.On the environmental or external factors, in comparison to early this year, social activities and interactions have increased and the use of masks and adherence to physical distancing has gone down. However, the usefulness of these tools was greater when people were without immunity and susceptible (not exposed to the virus and not vaccinated). Environmental factors come into play only when there is a change in the agent factor, that is, the emergence of a new VoC. Since currently, Omicron is the only VoC, except for a small fraction of vulnerable and unvaccinated population sub-group, the utility of masks and physical distancing as public health measures is limited.So, if we interpret the epidemiological, virological and immunological evidence, supplemented by the data from genomic and wastewater surveillance and the trend in reported cases and deaths in India, it is logical to conclude that the ongoing wave in China is extremely unlikely to cause a fresh national wave in India.Yet, much of the discourse on how to prepare for the “possible” next wave is influenced by opinion and isolated interpretations of past information. The recent argument that “the next 40 days will be crucial” in India is inferred from the patterns of previous Covid waves. For diseases with epidemic potential, the “context” matters a lot. Three years into the pandemic, the context has changed, and past patterns are not a helpful guide for decision making. Another assertion that “let’s be prepared for the worst-case scenario” is the weakest of all. Such an approach was acceptable at the beginning of the pandemic with many unknowns; the response now needs to be guided by science, informed by all possible sources of evidence, and factoring in the learnings. It needs to be nuanced and setting-specific.Indeed, Covid has not disappeared, but the virus and disease are unlikely to ever completely go away. Even when the pandemic gets over, there would be waves and spikes (localised or at the country-level) at unpredictable intervals in different parts of the world. Countries including India should be prepared for such an eventuality. At present, there doesn’t seem to be any role of mask mandates, universal testing, enforced physical distancing or any other form of restrictions.Covid-19 has become endemic in India for the last few months, and it is time the government downgrades Covid-19 to the status of other respiratory illnesses. It is also the time that India develops an evidence-informed “Covid-19 endemic stage response plan”.The writer is a consultant physician and epidemiologist and the lead co-author of Till We Win: India’s fight Against The Covid-19 Pandemic

Why a fresh national Covid wave is unlikely in IndiaPremium Story
Daily Briefing: BJP-Eknath Shinde coalition wins trust vote in Maharashtra; scientists look at Omicron sub-variant amid spike in Covid cases
The Indian Express | 6 months ago | |
The Indian Express
6 months ago | |

Good morning,The BJP-Shinde Sena coalition won the trust vote with 164 votes, the same number it previously garnered in the Speaker’s election. The last day of the special assembly session was marked by an emotional speech from Shinde, who referred to the death of two of his children in a boat accident in June 2000. He also tried to reassure his political rivals saying: “We don’t subscribe to the politics of vendetta…”🔴 Having comfortably won the floor test, the coalition may not press for disqualification of the 15 MLAs left with Uddhav Thackeray. Highly placed sources in the BJP said the party wanted “truce”, even though Speaker Rahul Narwekar said he would seek their disqualification as they had ignored a whip issued by the Shinde side for the Speaker election.🔴 Meanwhile, the failure of 11 Congress MLAs, including former CM Ashok Chavan, to cast their vote in the floor test led to raised eyebrows within the party with senior leaders raising concern and questioning their “recklessness” and “casual behaviour”. Chavan said: “We were late by two or three minutes. They closed the gates. There is no foul play. We were stuck in traffic.”At least 26 recommendations for appointment of judges to the Bombay High Court, which is currently functioning at almost half its sanctioned strength, are pending with the government at different stages of consideration, The Indian Express has learnt. The Bombay High Court currently has 57 judges against a sanctioned strength of 96 judges. At least five more judges are expected to retire this year.Scientists in India probing the possible causes for the recent rise in Coronavirus cases said BA.2.75, one of the several sub-variants of the parent Omicron variant, was now one of the most commonly detected sub-variant in the country in recent results of genome sequencing. It has been found to have an 18 per cent growth advantage over the other currently circulating Omicron sub-variants. However, there is no evidence as of now to suggest that the BA.2.75 also causes a more severe form of infection.The government has barred hotels and restaurants from adding service charge “automatically or by default” in the food bill. It said that in case of violation, a consumer can ask the hotel/ restaurant to remove the service charge, or seek redressal by filing a complaint.As drama swirled around the Maharashtra government’s survival, one of the characters at the heart of it was a politician from Haryana, Sonia Doohan. The 30-year-old national president of the NCP students’ wing was held along with an aide for allegedly using fake identification documents to check into a hotel in Goa, where Sena rebels were staying. Doohan, who played an “important role in the fall of the three-day BJP government in 2019” according to NCP’s Dheeraj Sharma, has denied the allegations.A day after their capture of two heavily armed LeT militants, the residents of Tukson village in J&K remain firm: they will not give way to terrorists, at any cost. One of the residents involved in the capture, a BA student, told The Indian Express about how he had alerted his brother of two “unknown people posing as traders” at a dhok. This led to a gathering of seven residents, who formed a cordon, and eventually went on to overpower the duo.A year since the Covid-induced oxygen crisis, hospitals in Delhi are struggling to keep the pressure-swing adsorption (PSA) plants going. Most of them switch on the plant once a week or for a couple of hours every day to ensure that the machine remains functional. The reason for this are multiple: High operation and maintenance cost, lower quality of oxygen generated, and fear of antagonising the regular liquid medical oxygen suppliers.Mumbai’s chawl and low-income housing localities have always boasted of a community dance culture. B-Girl Bar-B, born Siddhi Tambe, took her first steps in Breaking at a similar community centre. The 18-year-old has now earned a ticket to New York after emerging India champ at the Red Bull BC One Cypher earlier this month. We take a look at her journey.Delhi Confidential: Union Minister Amit Shah annually visits his village on the occasion of Bhaidooj and the second day of Navratri and participates in the meeting of Primary Agricultural Credit Societies. Shah revealed this while responding to Cabinet colleague Parshottam Rupala, who took a jibe at cooperative leaders and asked them how they contribute to the sector, during an event to mark the 100th International Day of Cooperatives.In today’s episode of the ‘3 things’ podcast, we talk about Maharashtra’s new government clearing the floor test in the Assembly and the protests against its decision to build a metro shed in Aarey forest. We also discuss a fratricide case in BSF and the rising concern of mental health issues among police forces.Until tomorrow,Leela Prasad and Sonal Gupta

Daily Briefing: BJP-Eknath Shinde coalition wins trust vote in Maharashtra; scientists look at Omicron sub-variant amid spike in Covid cases
  • Maharashtra Floor Test Live Updates: BJP-Shinde camp govt crosses majority mark in trust vote; SC to hear plea challenging Shinde faction’s whip on July 11
  • The Indian Express

  • Maharashtra Assembly session from today; Shinde govt to face floor test on July 4
  • The Indian Express

    The four-day old Shiv Sena-BJP government will face the floor test on July 4 during the special two-day session of the Legislative Assembly beginning here Sunday.The election to the post of the Speaker of the House will be held Sunday after the House proceedings begin at 11 am, an official said.Sena MLA and Uddhav Thackeray loyalist Rajan Salvi is the candidate of the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress combine for the Speaker’s election. He is pitted against first-time BJP legislator Rahul Narvekar.Rebel Shiv Sena MLAs who support Shinde returned to Mumbai from Goa on Saturday evening on the eve of the Assembly session, and were lodged in a luxury hotel in south Mumbai, where Vidhan Bhavan, venue of the floor test, is located.NCP chief Sharad Pawar claimed that Narhari Zirwal, the deputy Speaker, can perform officiating Speaker’s duties even though a no-confidence motion is pending against him. The post of Speaker is vacant since February last year after Nana Patole of Congress quit.As many as 50 MLAs who support Shinde, including 39 rebel legislators of the Shiv Sena, on Saturday evening flew to Mumbai from Goa by a chartered flight. Shinde, who had flown to Goa in the morning, accompanied them back.Shinde has the support of 10 legislators of smaller parties and independents and 106 MLAs of the BJP in the 288-member House.Following is the party position in the Assembly: Shiv Sena 55, NCP 53, Congress 44, BJP 106, Bahujan Vikas Aghadi 3, Samajwadi Party 2, AIMIM 2, Prahar Janshakti Party 2, MNS 1, CPI (M) 1, PWP 1, Swambhimani Paksha 1, Rashtriya Samaj Paksha 1, Jansurajya Shakti Party 1, Krantikari Shetkari Party 1, and Independents 13.There is a vacancy due to the death of Shiv Sena MLA Ramesh Latke last month.Two NCP members – Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and Food and Civil Supplies Minister Chhagan Bhujbal – have tested COVID-19 positive, while two other party legislators – Anil Deshmukh and Nawab Malik – are currently in jail.

  • Maharashtra Speaker’s election today: Stage set for first test for new CM Shinde
  • The Indian Express

    WITH THE Speaker’s election slated for Sunday after Shiv Sena announced the candidature of its MLA Rajan Salvi for the post against BJP’s Rahul Narwekar, the stage is set for the first test for the newly sworn-in Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and his group of Sena rebels, and for BJP and the Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis.Shinde and Fadnavis were sworn in on Thursday and the Governor has called for a special session of the assembly on Sunday and Monday for the Speaker’s election followed by a floor test. The election will mark the first battle in the House between Uddhav Thackeray-led Sena which has 16 MLAs, and Shnde-led rebel group with 39 MLAs.On Saturday, Shiv Sena chief whip Sunil Prabhu issued a whip, asking all the MLAs to be present in the assembly and cast their votes in favour of Salvi.Replying to the whip issued by Prabhu, Chief Minister Shinde asserted that it does not apply to his group as they have more than two-thirds of the total 55 Sena MLAs. He said, “We will face the floor test and we will win”.Sources said a separate whip is likely to be issued by the Shinde faction for the election and the floor test.Ajay Chaudhari, Shiv Sena legislative party leader said, “We have a strategy in place but I can’t disclose it now.’’ Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant said, “We will fight the Speaker’s election and we believe in the Constitution. I have heard that the Shinde faction spokesperson Deepak Kesarkar said that Uddhav Thackeray is their leader. These MLAs now must obey the whip and vote for Rajan Salvi.”Shiv Sena parliamentary party leader Vinayak Raut said, “We have issued a whip that the rebel MLAs should vote for Rajan Salvi. If they don’t, it will be an added material in our case in Supreme Court for disqualifying them.”A three-time MLA, Salvi was accompanied by Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant, Sena legislature party leader Ajay Chaudhari, state NCP chief Jayant Patil, and Congress legislative party leader Balasaheb Thorat while filing his nomination for the election.Meanwhile, late Friday night, Thackeray sacked Shinde from the post of Shiv Sena leader in party organisation for indulging in “anti party activities’ ‘.“Dear Shri Shinde, You have been indulging in anti-party activities and have also voluntarily given up your membership of Shiv Sena. Therefore, in exercise of the powers vested in me as the Shiv Sena Paksha Pramukha, I remove you from the post of Shiv Sena leader in the party organisation,” the letter issued by Thackeray read.The move came after Shinde and Devendra Fadnavis took oath as CM and deputy CM respectively on Thursday. Sources in Shinde camp said that they will challenge the letter legally.Ahead of the Speaker’s election, the rebel Sena MLAs and Independent MLAs returned to Mumbai on Saturday evening after spending almost 11 days out of the state — first in Gujarat, then in Assam, and then in Goa. They arrived in Mumbai on a special flight and will be camped at a south Mumbai five-star hotel along with BJP MLAs.Addressing them, CM Shinde asserted that the whip of state legislative leader Bharat Gogawale, who is a part of his group, will be applicable to them, and not that of Shiv Sena’s which has been reduced to a minority.Security was beefed up in Mumbai and police security was deployed along the route from Mumbai airport to South Mumbai hotel to avoid any untoward incident.As the floor test is also scheduled on Monday, Shiv Sena president and former CM Uddhav Thackeray held meetings with party leaders to carve out a strategy. Congress MLC Bhai Jagtap and Congress working president Charan Singh Sapra also met Thackeray at Matorshree Saturday afternoon and all MVA leaders held a meeting in the evening.The NCP legislature party will hold a meeting on Sunday morning to decide their strategy. State NCP president Jayant Patil said, “I feel elections should not be held. All three parties gave a letter… We have a deputy Speaker, Narhari Zirwal, and he has the right to run the House… When the government has changed, Koshyari has allowed elections for a Speaker and people are watching these developments.”Congress spokesperson Atul Londhe said, “Earlier, MVA demanded election of Speaker and it was denied by the Governor quoting law related to elections. Now, we can’t understand the reason to have elections. The Governor should not forget that he is a constitutional authority, and not a BJP worker.”

No curbs, but wear masks in crowded areas: Goa minister Vishwajit Rane
Times of India | 7 months ago | |
Times of India
7 months ago | |

PANAJI: Health minister Vishwajit Rane said people must follow Covid-19 appropriate behaviour and that the government cannot bring in curbs. "Economic activity and health must coexist," he said. He, however, appealed to people to wear masks in crowded places. "Citizens feel that the government has to do everything," he said. "With active cases crossing 200, there is a rising trend and we all have to stay safe," Rane said in a video message to citizens. He appealed to people with flu symptoms and bodyache to get tested. State epidemiologist Dr Utkarsh Betodkar said the state's positivity rate has been above five per cent over the past four days. "During week 15 of this year, weekly cases dropped to as low as 13. But now we are seeing 176 cases a week. This is definitely a rise, a small rise. Whether it will turn into a major wave will have to be seen," he said. "If the Omicron variant continues to be dominant, the admission rate will be low and death rate under control," Betodkar said. He added that after 68 samples were recently tested at the new genomic sequencing lab at Asilo hospital, the only variant in circulation appeared to be Omicron, which was the same one present during the mild third wave. When asked whether masks should be made compulsory for schools and government establishments, director of health services Dr Geeta Kakodkar said, "Nothing should be made compulsory. It should be a social responsibility to wear masks." Regarding advice to government officials and ministers holding large functions, and whether these should be allowed at all, she said, "All are adults and can choose whether to go or not."

No curbs, but wear masks in crowded areas: Goa minister Vishwajit Rane
  • Rane: No curbs, but wear masks in crowded areas
  • Times of India

    Panaji: Health minister Vishwajit Rane, while appealing to citizens to follow Covid-appropriate behaviour, said the government cannot be expected to bring in restrictions as Goa is a tourist-oriented destination. “Economic activity and health must coexist,” he said. He, however, appealed to people to wear masks in crowded places. “Citizens feel that the government has to do everything,” he said. “With active cases crossing 200, there is a rising trend and we all have to stay safe,” Rane said in a video message to citizens. He appealed to people with flu symptoms and bodyache to get tested. State epidemiologist Dr Utkarsh Betodkar said the state’s positivity rate has been above five per cent over the past four days. “During week 15 of this year, weekly cases dropped to as low as 13. But now we are seeing 176 cases a week. This is definitely a rise, a small rise. Whether it will turn into a major wave will have to be seen,” he said. “If the Omicron variant continues to be dominant, the admission rate will be low and death rate under control,” Betodkar said. He added that after 68 samples were recently tested at the new genomic sequencing lab at Asilo hospital, the only variant in circulation appeared to be Omicron, which was the same one present during the mild third wave. When asked whether masks should be made compulsory for schools and government establishments, director of health services Dr Geeta Kakodkar said, “Nothing should be made compulsory. It should be a social responsibility to wear masks.” Regarding advice to government officials and ministers holding large functions, and whether these should be allowed at all, she said, “All are adults and can choose whether to go or not.”

State’s genome sequencing facility becomes operational
Navhind Times | 8 months ago | |
Navhind Times
8 months ago | |

Staff ReporterPanajiAfter much delay, Goa’s first genome sequencing facility has been made operational at the North Goa District Hospital (NGDH) in Mapusa.Even though the facility is yet to be certified by the INSACOG forum of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the Directorate of Health Services has claimed that it is at par with the Pune-based National Institute of Virology (NIV).The INSACOG (Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium) has been set up by the Union Health Ministry to study and monitor genome sequencing and virus variation of circulating strains of COVID-19 in India.Addressing a press conference in Panaji, state epidemiologist Dr. Utkarsh Betodkar said that from now onwards the genome analysis will be carried out in the new facility at the North Goa DistrictHospital.It is pertinent to note that the genome study ascertains the different variants of the coronavirus that are in circulation in Goa.“INSACOG certification is only for reporting under national level and for just national recognition. We have applied with them and the process is on. Our quality check is with NIV, which is a hub laboratory for our state. They have already certified it…gone through, and we have made it functional. Now onwards, samples from Goa will be tested at our new facility at NGDH,” Dr. Betodkar said. Previously, in the absence of a genome sequencing facility in the state, samples drawn from different parts of the state were sent either to the NIV orthe National Centre for Cell Science, which is also based in Pune.A medical team of the NGDH,headed by the district hospital’s senior pathologist Dr. Varsha Munj,had undergone two-day training formaking the genome sequencing facility operational at the hospital.Dr. Betodkar informed that recent reports received from the NIV Pune have revealed that Omicron sublineage BA.2 has been the dominant variant in Goa in the last four months. “During the third wave, two strains of Omicron were there in Goa –B.1.1.529and BA 2. But in the last two months only BA 2 is prevalent,” he said.

State’s genome sequencing facility becomes operational
We see higher footfalls during the weekend: Goa restaurateurs
Times of India | 10 months ago | |
Times of India
10 months ago | |

With caronavirus induced lockdowns and restorations have been affecting tourism related activities in the state over the last two years, the 'tourist season' in the state has been rather short with barely any international tourists visiting and domestic tourists visiting for shorter trips, especially on long weekends. While the Christmas and New Year week saw a huge spike in tourists, the omicron scare the following week discouraged tourists from coming in. There was another dip in tourist footfalls after the code of conduct due to elections and restrictions on opening timings and sale of alcohol further. However, the long Holi weekend saw tourists flock to the state. Stakeholders talk about how there are fewer visitors on weekdays, and there's a spike over the weekend. Several restaurateurs from the tourist belt claim that they are seeing a higher footfall over the weekend, as compared to weekdays. "Restaurants are doing well currently. Holi weekend was great. Now with the news of the new strain and rumours about lockdowns and travel restrictions, people are living by the day, and heading to Goa for the weekends or for short trips, which is helping businesses here. But if there's another night curfew or restrictions, things will come to a standstill again," says Sandeep Sreedharan from Mahe and Elaa Cafe in Anjuna. Joshua Proenca, from Pousada by the Beach in Calangute The timing of omicron also coincided with the code of conduct, and there were not much tourists coming to Goa. Even the crowd who was here couldn't go out, which discouraged tourists from visiting. Post elections, business has been good. People aren't scared to come to Goa, because a lot of people who have already tested positive before have realised we just have to live with the virus being around. Goa is become a weekend destination and business is booming during the weekend. Goa has been getting a lot of high profile guests post the lockdown, and people's choice in alcohol has got better, and there's a crazy demand for good quality brands."

We see higher footfalls during the weekend: Goa restaurateurs
Third wave was driven by Omicron variant, says DHS
Times of India | 11 months ago | |
Times of India
11 months ago | |

Panaji: Results of genome sequencing released by the directorate of health services have indicated that the third wave was largely an Omicron driven one, with most reports from genome sequencing supporting this. Like earlier, this time too, the results from genome sequencing arrived only after the wave had ebbed. A similar situation was seen during the devastating second wave, where it was belatedly reported that the Delta variant was the prevalent one. Out of 306 samples sent to NIV Pune in January this year, only 186 reports have been received. Of these, 54 were attributed to Omicron and one to the Delta variant. In February, out of 413 samples sent, only 167 reports were received out of which 148 samples tested positive for Omicron and none for Delta. Meanwhile, according to Sunday’s Covid update, the number of daily infections had dropped to 20 while one person had succumbed to the infection. A 78-year-old man from Navelim died within 24 hours of being admitted at the sub-district hospital at Chicalim after experiencing breathlessness. He was vaccinated, but suffered from comorbidities including diabetes, hypertension and liver cirrhosis. The current number of active cases has dropped to 301 and the state’s positivity rate is at 1.9% from the 1,046 samples tested. No patients were hospitalised, while 20 opted for home isolation. The state’s recovery rate currently stands at 98%. North Goa’s weekly positivity rate, at 4%, continues to be higher than that of South Goa which is at 2.15% for the week ending February 26.

Third wave was driven by Omicron variant, says DHS
Monetary policy is bold but there are inherent risks
Navhind Times | 11 months ago | |
Navhind Times
11 months ago | |

D. M. DeshpandeThe RBI took everyone by surprise, including the markets, by announcing an accommodative monetary policy. Of course, it was a pleasant surprise, for, it was widely believed that the Central bank would signal the end of soft key rates.Both the key rates, the repo and the reverse repo, were held; even in the reverse repo rate no hike was announced. The 3.35 per cent reverse repo rate is 0.65 per cent lower than the repo rate of 4.0 per cent. It was expected that this difference would be narrowed to bring about a rate ‘corridor’ correction to bring back a semblance of normalcy. Normally, the difference between the two key rates is 0.25 per cent.It is over 21 months since the last policy rates were changed, both repo and reverse repo rates were revised downward by 40 basis points. The RBI believes that the inflation is not such a great threat and that it is manageable. Therefore, it has put all its weight behind propelling growth which is showing signs of recovery from the pandemic hit disruptions in economic activities.In other words, it does not want to disturb the apple cart when the going is apparently good in terms of GDP growth. It seems to have relied on three factors. One, good monsoons, of which there are early favourable signs as per weather forecast reports. Second, the COVID 19 and its variants like Omicron may not cause more disruptions in 2022-23 and third, the contact industries that were hit would emerge stronger with government credit line support that is extended till March 2023.But the inflation risks emanate both from external and internal environments. At $90 per barrel, the oil prices have skyrocketed in recent months. With state elections taking place in India, retail prices of oil and its products have not been hiked, but now it is just a matter of time before the inevitable happens.When the oil rates were revised last time, the world oil price was hovering around $75 dollars a barrel. The silver lining is that global oil price may have peaked considering the forecast of an average global inflation of 4.5 per cent. Central banks of most of the large economies have shifted gear and have embarked on a rate hike cycle.The Federal Reserve has said that not only the rate hike is imminent but may be done twice, thrice to combat growing threat of inflation. In that sense, India’s dovish stance is in sharp contrast with the RBI reiterating that the accommodative stance shall continue as long as it is needed to bring growth back to normal levels.The RBI was at pains to explain how the Indian inflation threat is different and why it should not be compared with the EU or the US. But the global supply chain disruptions will impact India too. Besides, being a major trading nation, a part of inflation may be imported as well.India is not immune to global changes in this regard; the liquidity hang over the economy is persisting in India too though compared to the west, it may be less to some extent. The US is having an inflation of 7.5 per cent and there is a high risk of importing inflation from abroad.Internally, the Indian economy is experiencing price rise since Oct 2021.The WPI has shot up to nearly 14 per cent in Dec. 2021. However, the RBI tracks and is more concerned with retail inflation. Even the retail inflation went up to 5.59 per cent in December. But as per the January data, it has breached the band of ‘tolerance’ limit of 6 per cent set by RBI, marginally though. Under the Fiscal Responsibility Act, it is given a target of 4 per cent with two per cent leeway on either side. However, pressures to inflation have further intensified in the last one month and therefore, it is the question of the RBI being ahead of the inflation curve.Surprisingly, the RBI has revised downwards its 2022-23 first quarter rate to 4.9 per cent from the earlier forecast of 5 per cent it made in December. Further, it believes by the 3rd quarter will be down to 4 per cent, the mandated level! Optimistic, these projections are, they are probably done after factoring in the growth predictions.The Budget 22 predicted a growth for 2022-23 to be in the region of 8 to 8.5 per cent. Now, the RBI expects the growth rate to be 7.8 per cent. The difference may not be much but no one knows how the Omicron or the other COVID variants will play out.If the growth is hit, then there will be a double whammy. It may give a fillip to both current as well as future inflation. Perhaps one reason why the RBI has not raised rates is to facilitate the massive borrowing program of the government. As per the Budget estimates, the central government has set a target of borrowing Rs.14.95 lakh crores for the next year. By not raising the rates, it is trying to cool yields on bonds. However, in doing so it is going against the general trend of returning to normal by leading central banks of the world. The RBI has explained that it is necessary to decouple from the rate policy directions of western nations.This puts the onus on everyone including the public and private enterprises to expand their economic activities. If that doesn’t happen, then the dovish stance of RBI may well become counterproductive. The RBI Governor invoked the memorable song of late Lata Mangeshkar ‘Aaj phir jeene ki tamanna (desire) hai’. That is fine but he did not quote the second line, ‘Aaj phir marane ka irada (intent) hai’. That is dreadful!The author has four decades of experience in higher education teaching and research. He is the former first vice-chancellor of ISBM University, Chhattisgarh.

Monetary policy is bold but there are inherent risks
Auto sales in January skid 10.7%
Navhind Times | 11 months ago | |
Navhind Times
11 months ago | |

Year 2022 started off on a slow note for automobile sales in India as the market for car and four-wheelers in January continued to be hit by the semi-conductor shortage while two-wheelers suffered from poor demand.Overall vehicle sales declined 10.7 per cent (year-on-year) during January, said the Federation of Automobile Dealers Association of India (FADA.)Information disclosed by the dealer’s body shows that, passenger vehicle sales fell 10 per cent in January, while two-wheelers sales decreased 13.4 per cent due to rural India remaining in distress. On the other hand, three-wheelers and commercial vehicle sales were up 30 per cent and 20.5 per cent respectively.Commenting on the reduced volumes, Vinkesh Gulati, president, FADA, said, “The month of January continues to show weak performance. In fact 55 per cent of dealers in our internal survey said that they lost over 10 per cent sales due to the Omicron wave. It shows that India is yet to recover from the COVID effect. In spite of good demand, passenger vehicle continues to face the brunt of semi-conductor shortage resulting in void of a healthy inventory. Coming to 2-wheeler category, the rural distress coupled with price rise and Omicron wave played a villain’s role for this segment. With the revival in economy, CV segment continues to show growth especially in heavy commercial vehicle category. With increased infrastructure spending by central as well as state governments, the overall CV segment remains in momentum.”The dealer’s body however, expects auto sales to turn positive in the coming months. “As India gets back on its feet post the 3rd wave of COVID we expect auto retail to slowly turn positive. Semi-conductor shortage is also showing some signs of easing as many passenger vehicle OEMs assure of better dispatch. We hence expect vehicle availability to improve going further” added Gulati.He said that, the Budget 2022 stressed on developing 25,000 kms of new highways. “It will further push infrastructure spending, thus resulting in an increase in commercial vehicle sales. Added to this, some traction is also being witnessed in replacement demand after a period of two years. Rural India has generally been a key driver for 2-Wheeler and entry level passenger vehicle segment. With government’s plan for 2.3 lakh crore direct payment as MSP to farmers, it may work as a booster for 2-wheeler, tractor and entry level PV sales. The upcoming marriage season will also trigger some demand revival for the 2-Wheeler segment,” said the FADA president.Figures put out by FADA on January sales show that, Maruti Suzuki India is the top player by way of volumes with the company selling 1.2 lakh vehicles and holding a market share of 46.8 per cent. Sales volume of Hyundai Motors was 35,140 vehicles (market share 13.6 per cent, Tata Motor 32,408 vehicles (market share 12.5 per cent), Mahindra and Mahindra 18,638 vehicles (7.2 per cent) and Toyota Kirloskar 10,799 vehicles (market share 4.2 per cent) in January.

Auto sales in January skid 10.7%
Elderly people most vulnerable to Omicron: Dr. Nayak
Navhind Times | 1 year ago | |
Navhind Times
1 year ago | |

Staff ReporterPanajiDr. Chitralekha Nayak, a prominent physician in Goa, pointed out that elderly people are most vulnerable to the Omicron variant of Coronavirus, and said the symptoms of virus appearing in older adults were different from those seen in younger patients.Speaking on clinical management of COVID-19 patients and about her personal experience in dealing with such patients during an online panel discussion organised by Tiswadi unit of the Indian Medical Association-Goa branch on Wednesday, Dr Nayak said that elderly people were coming in with atypical symptoms.“A majority of patients in 70-75 age group and above, whom I have treated, had no fever, cough or respiratory symptoms. Patients and their relatives assume that they have some other disease but actually these patients had COVID-19. They are tested late and brought late to the facility. The symptoms that elderly complain of now are giddiness, palpitation, chest pain, and they can also have stroke-like symptoms,” she said.Dr Nayak said that the other early warning signs of COVID-19 in elderly people include loss of appetite, fatigue, and excessive sleep.“Sometimes their sodium level also drops. If you do not test them in time then probably their parameters are going to change and they will require treatment under hospitalisation for a longer period of time,” she warned.The physician said that kidney failure patients, liver failure patients, bed-ridden dementia patients, patients with heart disease, having low pumping capacity and severe asthma patients are extremely at a high risk.Dr Nayak said that there is a high possibility of them developing complications in the second and third week of infection and added that elderly people should be tested within the first two days of the symptoms of the virus so as to provide immediate medical attention.She further said that in re-infection cases, be it young or old, the patients require monitoring for any post COVID-19 complications particularly lung involvement.Dr Nayak advised COVID-19 patients of all age groups whose fever persists till sixth-seventh day to take adequate rest in the second week and third week and avoid engaging in household work or physical exercise.Stating that patients under home isolation were taking paracetamol tablets round the clock to suppress the fever, Dr Nayak said that it should not be taken without checking the body temperature.She said that at least 2.5 litres of liquid intake is must for a normal healthy adult when he/she gets COVID-19.The state immunisation officer Dr Rajendra Broker, in his presentation, informed that during this ongoing third wave of the pandemic as many as 636 patients had been hospitalised in different health facilities.Senior chest physician Dr Anil Mehndiratta also spoke on the occasion. He differentiated in detail between Delta and Omicron variants of COVID-19.One of the prominent members of the state task force on COVID-19 management Dr Shekhar Salkar urged the people to continue following appropriate COVID-19 behaviouras it is the first line of defense against the virus. State IMA president Dr Rufino Monteiro highlighted the various initiatives taken by IMA-Goa in the fight against COVID-19 including re-opening of paid COVID care centres.

Elderly people most vulnerable to Omicron: Dr. Nayak
Comorbidity issues killed many, Covid incidental
Times of India | 1 year ago | |
Times of India
1 year ago | |

Panaji: Detection of Covid-19 infection in majority of the fatalities since the third wave has been “incidental” as patients reported life-endangering ailments. Many came after suffering a heart attack, stroke or other severities, with bleak chances of survival, and were found to have Covid due to the high infectivity of the Omicron variant, doctors say. It was also noted in several cases that patients having severe comorbidities sought medical help very late. “They died due to the severity of their ailment or other complications rather than of Covid infection, but such cases were termed as Covid deaths. Besides, the families of the deceased also insisted on the Covid test to claim government compensation,” said GMC dean and Covid hospital in-charge Dr S M Bandekar. The state pays compensation of Rs 2 lakh to families who have lost a member to Covid. The family is also entitled to an ex-gratia payment of Rs 50,000 if a member dies due to Covid. In the last two weeks, several people were either brought dead or died within a few hours of being hospitalised. “When a patient dies due to another ailment, there’s no need for a swab test, but families force us to do it and the toll rises,” he said. In the last two days, five people were declared brought dead to the hospital. Though Goa has witnessed growth in Covid infections, reporting a daily average of 3,000 cases for over a week, fatalities have been low as compared to the second wave. From one or two cases a day, fatalities rose but have so far have remained in the single digits. In the last four days, the daily average Covid toll has been 8.5. Bandekar also did not rule out the possibility of few deaths due to the Delta variant. “The third Covid wave is due to both Omicron and Delta,” he said. While other states are well aware of the variants that have been causing the spike, Goa does not have its own genomic sequencing facility and is still ignorant about the proportion in which the Omicron variant has been responsible for the steep rise in cases.

Comorbidity issues killed many, Covid incidental
‘Omicron in community spread stage in India’
Navhind Times | 1 year ago | |
Navhind Times
1 year ago | |

It is dominant in several metros: INSACOGNew Delhi: The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is in the community transmission stage in India and has become dominant in multiple metros where new cases have been rising exponentially, the INSACOG has said in its latest bulletin.It also said BA.2 lineage, an infectious sub-variant of Omicron, has been found in a substantial fraction in the country.The INSACOG, in its January 10 bulletin that was released on Sunday, said while most Omicron cases so far have been asymptomatic or mild, hospitalisations and ICU cases have increased in the current wave and the threat level remains unchanged.“Omicron is now in community transmission in India and has become dominant in multiple metros, where new cases have been rising exponentially. BA.2 lineage is in a substantial fraction in Indiaand S gene dropout based screening is thus likely to give high false negatives,” it said.S-gene dropout is a genetic variation like that of Omicron.“The recently reported B.1.640.2 lineage is being monitored. There is no evidence of rapid spread.”“While it has features of immune escape, it is currently not a variant of concern. So far, no case has been detected in India,” the INSACOG said.The INSACOG, in its bulletin of January 3 which was also released on Sunday, also said Omicron is now in community transmission in India and has become dominant in Delhi and Mumbai where new cases have been rising exponentially.“Further spread of Omicron in India is now expected to be through internal transmission, not foreign travellers, and a revised sampling and sequencing strategy of INSACOG is being worked out to address genomic surveillance objectives in the wake of dynamic changing scenario of virus infection,” the INSACOG said.“COVID appropriate behaviour and vaccination are main shields against all form mutations of SARSCoV-2 virus,” it said.The INSACOG, under the Union ministry of health and family welfare, reports genomic surveillance of SARS CoV-2 across the country through sequencing of samples from sentinel sites and also detailed state-wise district analysis for some states.A total of 1,50,710 samples have been sequenced and 1, 27,697 samples have been analysed so far by INSACOG.

‘Omicron in community spread stage in India’
Omicron? Delta? Goa clueless about whats driving third wave
Times of India | 1 year ago | |
Times of India
1 year ago | |

Panaji: Even as Goa’s positivity rate stays above 40%, with over 3,000 infections being reported a day, the state is still none the wiser about which variant is driving the spike. The results of most samples sent to the National Centre for Cell Sciences, Pune, are yet to be received. Since last month, the directorate of health services received over 20 reports, with many of them testing positive for the Omicron variant, which also included some local cases. The result of over 200 samples sent for testing after December 15 are pending. But considering the high infectivity in the state over the past 20 days and since the start of the third wave, it is assumed that as in some other states, in Goa too, Omicron could be leading the spread. “The spread of this third wave has been very swift and knowing the enhanced transmissibility of Omicron, the results of the S gene as a marker and going by what's happening in other states doing significant genome sequencing, we can definitely make an intelligent guess and say that it is the predominant variant at the moment,” said director of health services Dr Ira Almeida. Goa had learnt that it was Delta that played havoc during the second wave two months after the wave subsided as the results of the genomic sequencing of April-May 2021, sent to outstation laboratories, were belatedly received somewhere in August-September. Chest physician Dr Anil Mehndiratta said that it appears that the Omicron variant has been responsible for the big rise in infections reported in the state from mid-December. “The vaccine does not prevent an Omicron infection but seems to protect against severe disease and hospital admissions,” he said. “Omicron rarely affects the lungs and hence there’s a 70% lower chance of admission. People should not take unnecessary medicines, especially steroids, during the first five days of infection.” However, senior consultant pathologist Dr Eugene D’Souza said, “Goa doesn’t have any data on break-ups of the variants to plan a strategy. No one has any idea what quantum of delta and its sub-variants, besides Omicron, has been responsible for the infections reported since last month”. Relying on the sequencing data of Karnataka, which showed a high percentage of delta and delta sub-variants, D’Souza said that it is alarming because of the risk of infections spreading further through untested Covid-positive travellers coming to Goa. At the borders, only unvaccinated travellers are tested. Director of the Arogyam pathology centre that has been handling the testing at border check posts, Jairaj Joshi, said that a month ago, the positivity rate among travellers was close to zero, but since the past few days, at least 25-30 of the 400-odd tests done per day return positive results.

Omicron? Delta? Goa clueless about whats driving third wave
Tour operators distressed as COVID surge hits business
Navhind Times | 1 year ago | |
Navhind Times
1 year ago | |

Panaji: Amid rising COVID cases, international tour operators on Wednesday said that the COVID third wave is having a worse effect on Goa’s tourism industry than earlier expected.Foreign charter flights that were expected to continue operating during the third wave have taken a major hit of more than 50% by way of frequency and number of passengers, said the tour operators.“International charters are coming but with reduced capacity. One flight from Russia is coming every 10 days and one from Kazakhstan every week. They will be the only two charter flights which are operational as of now,” said Anupam Kumar, director, Caper Travels.“Not many people are ready to travel because of fear of Omicron and the travel restrictions. Tourists are feeling hassled because of the COVID restrictions and they have to shell out extra on the RT-PCR testing,” disclosed Kumar.He added that the tour operators who had made arrangements with foreign flight operators are presently facing losses due to the drop in business.“With less number of passengers it is very difficult to work on sustainable level. We have to maintain the same manpower just to keep the momentum going so that we don’t have to start from zero in the next foreign charter season,” said Kumar.Tour operators expect the ongoing international tourist season to continue up to mid-April this year, despite the less number of flights. A charter flight from Russia is expected to land on January 22.“The only silver lining is that, several European countries are declaring Omicron as flu and opening up airports and air travel. It may result in fewer cancellations from tourists who had previously booked tickets,” said Ernest Dias, SITA- TCI.Previously charter carriers from Kazakhstan and Russia had booked 40 landing slots at Dabolim Airport, of which about eight-ten flights arrived in the state. However the flights are coming in empty.Meanwhile the directorate general of civil aviation (DGCA) extended the suspension of international flights further till February 28. Flights under air bubble arrangements will continue as we well as charter flights to the state.Goa accounts for 92 per cent of charter flights in India and in 2018-19 about two lakh charter tourists visited the state. In pre-COVID days, the state received about 900 foreign charter flights with the bulk coming from Russia, followed by UK.

Tour operators distressed as COVID surge hits business
Is India better prepared to combat new COVID challenge?
Navhind Times | 1 year ago | |
Navhind Times
1 year ago | |

By D. M. DeshpandeThere are ominous signs of the Omicron spreading rapidly and quickly in India. The COVID 19 variant has already played havoc in the US and several parts of Europe. It still continues to be dominant and is showing no signs of relenting.That is the reason why the WHO has termed it as a variant of concern. It is relatively new in India though it is speculated that it must have been present in India for over a month or even in two. Yet the confirmed Omicron positive numbers are still low, around 5,000, here despite the fact that globally it has doubled in a matter of 2 to 3 days.However, paradoxically, as it may seem, there is a sudden surge, in fact a big spike of around 2 lakh overall fresh COVID cases in the country. In tandem, the positivity rate has crossed the 10 per cent mark.Actually, Omicron numbers may be misleading because genome sequencing and testing are not happening in adequate numbers. As health experts and scientists point out, genome sequencing is resource intensive and is done in batches of 24, 96 or 384. And every test costs upwards of Rs10,000.If the number of cases taken up are less than the optimum then, the per unit cost rises even higher. So waiting for the numbers to add up is delaying the exercise. It also takes 12 hours for genome sequencing and another 2 to 3 days for analysis and manual confirmation.Therefore, Karnataka nodal officer of the state advisory board Dr. Ravi is of the opinion that for the present we should treat all COVID cases as Omicron. This is also the view of the other experts in the field.With rising case load, there are questions of whether the nation’s healthcare system would be overwhelmed. It indeed did happen in the peak of the second wave when the daily cases were over 4.5 lakh and there was acute shortage of hospital beds, ICU facilities, oxygen supplies and even medical and para-medical staff in some of the worst affected areas.Overall, we seem to be better prepared to combat the spread of Omicron as well as the earlier and probably still prevalent delta variant. The experience of other nations seems to suggest that Omicron appears to be less lethal. Hence, when the assessment of adequacy of health infrastructure is made, it is more important to consider the hospitalisation rate and percentage of patients requiring ICU facilities.It appears that there will not be an enhanced need for ventilators to combat Omicron. Presently pan- India hospitalisation rate varies between 5 to 10 per cent. Compare this with the peak of the second wave in India when it was 25 per cent. Hence, it was not possible for governments and hospitals to cope up with sudden surge in beds, oxygen cylinders and ICU units. Therefore, even a positivity rate of 25 per cent in Delhi has not resulted in shortage of medical care facilities.Supply of oxygen to hospitals has been ramped up learning from the bitter experience of the second wave. The count of cryogenic tanks in hospitals has gone up from 790 in December 2020 to more than 1,200 now. Similarly, oxygen cylinders have increased to 12.5 lakhs now compared to 8.7 lakhs in Dec.2020.Further medical infrastructure in terms of hospital beds too has improved. In managing Covid patients, both isolation and ICU beds are critical. Their numbers have scaled up from 10,180 and 2,168 in March 2020 to more than 18 lakh beds and around 1.25 lakh ICU beds as of Aug.2021.Vaccination has also helped in a big way in this third wave. About 90 per cent of the eligible population is already partially vaccinated and 60 per cent is fully vaccinated. Besides, for the age group between 15 to 18 years vaccination drive has started early in this month. Government sources claim that over three crore teens have been vaccinated. Since there is no dearth of vaccines, booster doses are also planned to be administered in a phased manner starting with health workers and senior citizens.Omicron multiplies and spreads much faster than the earlier Delta variant. As WHO points out, it has a growth advantage over Delta and the doubling time is 2 to 3 days. This is evident from the data available from the affected countries including where it has become now dominant as in cases of the UK and the USA.Health experts also believe that the numbers in this third wave will rise quickly and decline, too will be quite rapid. It will be mild though highly infectious. Obviously, home quarantine and treatment at home have increased. And this will be critical in managing and curbing the spread of the virus.Online consulting and medical facilities need to be enhanced. Primary healthcare and volunteers’ teams would play a vital role. Ensuring adequate supply and availability of basic medicines such as paracetmol and others will help in home care and patients’ treatment.As rightly pointed out by Dr Rahul Pandit of the Maharashtra COVID task force, there will always be a subset who would still need hospital care. And if numbers rise too quickly and spread to the rural areas, the health care system will be overwhelmed. That is the reason why the WHO also calls it a variant of concern.State cannot take its eyeballs away from the action scene. The time tested 3 T’s have stood us in good stead-test, trace and treat. It is no different in the third wave. Social distancing, masking and washing of hands continue to be preventive measures to arrest the spread of a virus that does not move itself; rather we help it to spread its tentacles.The author has four decades of experience in higher education teaching and research. He is the former first vice-chancellor of ISBM University, Chhattisgarh.

Is India better prepared to combat new COVID challenge?