Omicron Crisis In India: Rules, Advisories And Contradictions!

The Government of India Health Secretary has today disclosed to the media that the hospitalization rate during the Delta-led second COVID-19 wave was between 20-23% while in the Omicron-led third wave the observed rate so far is 5-10%. However, he warned the states and union territories of the country the situation may change radically anytime. Even otherwise, the observed low rate of hospitalization is not reassuring at all, because with infections spreading at an exponential rate, 3-4 times higher than the Delta, the 5-10% hospitalization could mean unmanageable absolute numbers. The national capital Delhi is considering a lockdown-like clampdown with its positivity rate reaching 25% whereas 5% is considered to be high enough for red alert. In Mumbai the positivity rate is around 23%, in Kolkata more than 40% and similar numbers are to be seen in other metros too. The reproduction rate or the R factor is also looking ominous at 2-3% all over India. While the present crisis needs stringent curbs, aggressive testing and tracing, containment and accelerating vaccination the supreme medical body of India the ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) has issued on the same day some guidelines that look obviously contradictory.


Regarding testing the ICMR guidelines say that the asymptomatic healthy individuals in community settings need not be tested even if they come into contact of confirmed COVID-19 cases; only the high-risk people or citizens with comorbidities have to be tested in either of the above cases; and that no testing is to be required for domestic travels. The questions that immediately come to the mind is what about the asymptomatic healthy individuals who can transmit the virus to high-risk or elderly people around and why the testing is sought to be thus restricted. Does it mean that actual infections are going to rise so much that it’ll not be possible to test and isolate each and every one? Some experts are in fact observed to have admitted this terrifying fact. Many other experts have been saying all the time that the registered daily infections are only a fraction of the actual infections.


Therefore, it seems that the Omicron-led spread has already gone out of control with almost everyone—from doctors-healthcare workers to frontline workers and politicians-leaders—getting infected. The Prime Minister in a review meeting last evening had also emphasized on ramping up the health infra at the district levels and COVID appropriate behavior for all, but not on how to control the spread with lockdown-like curbs even as the countrywide positivity rate has nearly touched 10%. The marginally falling numbers of the daily infections in the metros like Delhi and Mumbai in the last two days can be deceptive, because testing always gets lesser at the weekends, and now added with the new ICMR guidelines applicable pan-India the resultant numbers could be totally misleading.


So then, have the Indian authorities given up on the pandemic spread and decided to live with it allowing life go on as usual? Like in the case of an aircraft about to crash the crew shouts out to the passengers, ‘Brace’? We are observing similar situations in almost all the major cities: in Mumbai new curbs are announced, but there seems to be no takers or enforcers; in Karnataka even the national political party Congress is seen to be leading the violation-drive of the curbs imposed; Delhi is only considering stronger curbs, but saying all the time ‘no lockdown’ which could always be ‘politically correct’ for all parties; in Kolkata the situation is even worse with lots of doctors and nurses testing positive and patients needing treatment or hospitalization are not getting the facilities; and so on.


On the positive side booster jabs have started from today for healthcare and frontline officials and 60+ citizens with comorbidities. However, it is being observed that Omicron can breakthrough all vaccines and even booster doses, and this is one of the reasons as to why the authorities are thinking of leaving it to the people to care for themselves. Of course, the vaccines always reduce the risk of severe disease and data from other countries like South Africa show that the Omicron virus normally affects the upper respiratory system only, not going on to infiltrate the lungs, and therefore, apart from getting fully vaccinated we must all follow the masking and other norms as strictly as possible and avoid crowding or joining crowds to be safe from infections. Else, we don’t know at all what we are heading for. 


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