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With Omicron Variant Lurking Globally, Is India Battle Ready for a Third Wave?

The new Covid-19 variant, Omicron, first detected in southern Africa, has sparked concerns worldwide with several countries rushing to shut borders and clamp quarantine measures for passengers arriving from South Africa and its neighbouring nations.

The variant has so far been found in at least 12 countries. India is, however, yet to see a case of the variant, even as several states such as Maharashtra, Kerala and Chandigarh have reported confirmed Covid-positive cases of South Africa returnees. The positive samples have been sent for genome sequencing.

There are concerns if India – which battled a deadly second wave of the pandemic earlier this year with bodies of Covid victims outside hospitals, queues of ambulances carrying patients gasping for breath and crematorium/burial grounds flooded with deceased – is prepared to combat a possible third wave in the wake of the Omicron threat. The second wave was driven by the Delta variant, first detected in Maharashtra and experts have said that Omicron may even outrun Delta.

So far there have been no fatalities reported due to the new variant, however, the authorities remain at alert with research picking up pace. On the other hand, the Delta variant, that was also responsible for deadly second wave in India, led to fatalities due to a lack of preparedness in fighting the mutation. Moreover, the delta cases were at peak during May, when the vaccination in the country had not picked pace.

In case of Omicron, the global response has been very quick with the WHO declaring it a variant of Concern within a couple of days of its detection. Experts have also suggested that India may not see a huge surge as majority of Indians have developed antibodies against the delta variant, which was evident in the fourth national sero-survey, and a significant portion of adults have been vaccinated.

India has already rolled back plans to resume scheduled international flight operations from 15 December, amid the Omicron variant spread. The states have amped up surveillance and mandatory testing for travellers from high-risk countries are in place.

Amid the scare, there is a sudden spurt in the number of vaccinations in Maharashtra as the state inoculated 8.3 lakh vaccination, highest in November. Over 3.8 core or over 40 percent of the population in the state are fully vaccinated.

In Delhi, CM Arvind Kejriwal said that the national capital is prepared to set up 63,800 Covid-19 beds, some at a short notice of two weeks, in case of an outbreak of the Omicron variant. Delhi has 30,000 oxygen beds ready, of which 10,000 are intensive care unit beds, he added.

AIIMS Chief Dr Randeep Guleria has emphasised on the need to be very vigilant and aggressive surveillance for international travellers and in regions reporting sudden increase in cases.

In a report in BBC, Dr Chandrakant Lahariya said that the country’s pandemic response should be integrated into primary healthcare services and stressed on equitable distribution across urban and rural areas. Lahariya had said that Omicron has around 50 mutations, which potentially make the variant more transmissible.

However, others say that Omicron variant is not alarming. Dr Shekhar C Mande told ANI that the new variant and the situation is “concerning but not alarming”. “If you look at the history of all the infectious diseases, it does happen that viral disease, particularly initially, causes pandemics and over a period of time they become endemic,” Dr Mande said.