Omicron is not reviving Covid-19 wave in India yet, but here’s a note of caution
India now has 161 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 (Photo: PTI | Representative)
There is a fear that Omicron could already be reviving Covid-19 wave in India afresh. More than 100 Covid-19 cases have been attributed to the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2. Studies conducted in South Africa and other places indicate that Omicron may have very high transmissibility and breach immunity shields offered by natural infection or vaccination.
The number of tests has generally declined in most states and Covid protocol fatigue has set in among people. Safety protocol is not being followed even in big centres of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, a high positivity rate is not being witnessed.
The Union health ministry’s list of districts about case positivity rate shows that there are 25 districts with above five per cent positivity rate for Covid-19 tests. The nationwide average for the week ended December 15 was less than 0.6 per cent.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that if the case positivity rate is under five per cent, the pandemic is well-managed or not threatening. Of the 25 districts with a higher positivity rate, 15 were from Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim, which recently witnessed a surge and where the cases have been declining in all 15 districts.
Beyond the Northeast, nine districts were from Kerala, where Covid-19 cases have been declining in recent weeks. The seven-day average of Covid-19 cases in Kerala fell from over 4,750 on December 1 to about 3,650 on December 15 and further to less than 3,000 on December 18, according to data collated by the John Hopkins University of the US.
The other district with over five per cent positivity rate was Kolkata at 5.9 per cent. But here, too, Covid-19 cases have declined by over 20 per cent in December.
NO SURGE BUT A CAUTION NOTE
In the past, Covid-19 wave began with districts showing signs of a surge. The seven-day national average has been falling for months with the retreat of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. The seven-day average fell below 7,000 on December 19 for the first time since May 29 last year, according to John Hopkins University data.
The trend varies from one place or district to another, but it is not disturbing. Reports show that of 707 districts, for counting Covid-19 cases, only 13 showed a spike in Covid-19 cases in the week ended December 15 over the previous week.
Of these 13 districts, only two Hyderabad and Bengaluru showed a seven-day average of over 50 Covid-19 cases. Both places are busy international travel points and face the threat of an Omicron surge.
Delhi, meanwhile, is showing signs of a surge with cases of Omicron rising and Covid-19 infections crossing the 100-mark for the first time since June 25, when the city recorded 115 cases. With a steady rise in Covid-19 cases in recent days, Delhi recorded its first death due to the pandemic illness on December 19 after a gap of 10 days.
When the Delta variant struck Indians, the country was in early days of vaccination against Covid-19. Since then, over 65 per cent of the adult population has been fully vaccinated but its pace of vaccination has slowed down.
More than 23.6 crore doses of Covid-19 vaccines were administered in September. The number came down to 17.3 crore in October and 17.8 crore in November. The pace has increased in December about 14 crore shots have already been administered.
Also, there is a curious case of the ‘missing’ second dose. The exact number of those missing the second dose is not accurately known for December. But the issue was flagged by Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya in October when those missing their second dose stood at over 10 crore.
Another indicator of the missing second dose is the difference between age-groups of above-45 and under-45. In the case of the first dose, the gap between the two age-groups is about eight percentage points, but it increases to over 17 percentage points for the second dose. This indicates that the younger people could be missing their second dose.
The government has set a target of vaccinating 1.08 billion adult people in India with 2.16 billion doses. As of Monday afternoon, India administered 1.38 billion doses with about 55.25 crore second doses administered.
With Omicron evidently affecting unvaccinated and partially vaccinated people more, the new coronavirus variant might just find India a favourable zone to spread fast, though there is no indication that the variant is reviving a Covid-19 wave yet.