Pandemic Third Wave Response: The Feel-Good Factor And The Expendables!

An encompassing aura of complacency seems to have spread across India, probably faster than the Variant of Concern, Omicron itself. Anyone, doctor or expert or a commoner, you meet nowadays would tell you with a smile that you need not worry about Omicron as it is like normal influenza and does not penetrate your lungs, its area being limited to the upper respiratory tract. This sense of complacency or the feel-good factor, of course, has various ‘sound’ reasons varying from almost proven trends internationally, advisory-driven perceptions, comments by experts and the variant being considered as an immunity booster, even more powerful than the precautionary vaccine dose. So far, only the South African experience shows exponential rise in numbers accompanied by equally rapid decline after a few days and that Omicron leads only to a mild disease, particularly for the fully vaccinated. Fatality figures, however, do not follow the SA standards as a lot of people have died or still dying in the US, Europe and elsewhere. The expendables? Well, obviously, no government or authority can prevent people from dying, let it be the COVID-19 or other diseases.


The SA trend of exponential rise in infections followed by equally rapid decline is not seen fully in India, except perhaps in Mumbai and Delhi. In Mumbai, the daily cases have been falling rapidly while the state of Maharashtra does not show a similar trend. In Delhi the numbers have fallen rapidly at first, but later the numbers have been fluctuating. Of more concern is the fact that the daily positivity rate in the country has again risen to nearly 20% in the last 24 hours while in various states the rate has been fluctuating too from very high to moderate. The country’s daily numbers have also risen to over 2.8 Lakh in the same period and the daily fatality numbers are nearly 600 for the last three days which is no longer justifiable by the backlog counting in Kerala. The exponential rise in daily infections have been continuing unabated in Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab, Assam, Goa, Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh.


Hospitalization pan-India has been rising only marginally and still under good control. However, as the national numbers show the daily deaths have been showing a rising trend in almost all the states with most of them having double-digit (Kerala shows 140 deaths in the last 24 hours) numbers like Maharashtra’s 79, Karnataka’s 47, West Bengal and Delhi’s consistently 30+ numbers, Tamil Nadu’s 29, Punjab’s 22, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Assam’s 21 and most other smaller states’ less than 10, but rising. Now, who are all dying? Reports from hospitals show that mostly the unvaccinated, people with immunocompromised diseases, people with serious comorbidities and the elderly or the super senior citizens are mostly hospitalized and dying. These unfortunate people are obviously the expendables. While the unvaccinated ones have themselves to blame the people of the other categories cannot possibly follow the norms strictly with a totally relaxed society around them.


The fluctuations in the daily numbers of infections can be due to low testing pan-India which was apparently influenced by the revised ICMR guidelines that spared the asymptomatic and healthy people with symptoms from testing. When in the last week the country’s daily infections crossed 3,00,000 the Government of India alerted the states to ramp up testing which led to heated debates about interpretations and reinterpretations of the ‘actual’ ICMR guidelines. Besides, there’s no denying the fact that the official numbers are vastly underreported as most people, more relaxed now, hide their symptoms and dismiss them as common cold, never going for testing. The syndrome of community transmission has also been confirmed in various states.


While experts from the ICMR have indicated that the more serious Delta variant still accounts for at least 20% of the total daily infections the same organization, as per media reports, recently said that Omicron infections can in fact boost up the immune response in people thus protecting them from infections or reinfections from other variants including the Delta. So, Omicron’s ‘blessing in disguise’ phenomenon gets strengthened, further relaxing the people with the feel-good impulses.


The World Health Organization had recently warned that unchecked infections could lead to the emergence of more robust variants. Perhaps in line with that warning, a sub-variant to Omicron has already been detected in various countries including India, the data about it is so far not enough. Another fear is that, God forbid, the Delta may gain more scope for a resurgent assault from the present scenario. As far as the heath infra that has indeed become stronger thanks to the two years of the pandemic is concerned, so far so good. But it has to be kept in mind that smaller states and smaller towns do not possess the same hospital capacity in case the cases go out of control. To worsen matters, doctors and nurses are getting infected throughout the country in large numbers, some of them having serious diseases. 


As a result of the feel-good factors most of the states have been seen to be lenient in enforcing the strict norms they imposed earlier and now, there is going to be another chapter of relaxing the norms further. Yes, we do fervently hope that the Omicron-led Third Wave prove the authorities right, and as some experts say we can see the end of Omicron by April-May this year, and more hopefully, the pandemic finally getting downgraded to an endemic. However, our concerns remain, particularly about the so-called expendables. Why should people go on succumbing to the virus at all if we are in full control? How could you feel good when people are still dying around you? 


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