With some cities and states in India may be seeing plateauing of COVID-19 cases, WHO says focus must be on reducing transmission and implementing situation-specific measures.
The Health Ministry had said on Thursday that early indications of COVID cases plateauing have been reported in certain geographies in the country, but the trend needs to be observed.
Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia, believes the risk of COVID-19 remains high and no country, irrespective of their current transmission scenario is “out of the woods” yet. “Hence, even though some cities or states may be beginning to see plateauing of cases, the risk persists. We need to continue to remain vigilant. Our focus must be on reducing transmission. Implementing situation-specific public health and social measures and increasing vaccine coverage – that’s the way forward for all countries in the ongoing pandemic.”
India, on January 21, recorded a total of 3,47,254 new COVID cases after which the daily infection count has been declining. A decline in COVID cases and positivity rate has been especially observed in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Odisha, Haryana and West Bengal.
In regards to the pandemic entering in endemic stages, Singh says India is still in the midst of the pandemic and the focus should be to curtail the virus spread and save lives. “By becoming endemic, doesn’t mean that the virus will not be a cause of concern.” The expert said that Omicron is able to more rapidly infect the tissues of the upper respiratory tract rather than the lungs, which may also help the spread of this variant.
“There appears to be a lower risk of severe disease and death following Omicron infection as compared to other variants. However, due to the very high numbers of cases, many countries have seen a significant increase in the incidence of hospitalization, putting pressure on the healthcare systems,” Singh explained.
Moreover, data suggests that infection with Omicron may be associated with a lower risk of hospitalization compared to infection with Delta. However, it should be noted that severity of illness increases with age and in the presence of underlying medical conditions and among people who are not vaccinated.
Singh emphasized on the need to rapidly accelerate efforts to vaccinate all at-risk populations in all countries. “There is growing evidence on vaccine effectiveness for Omicron, but we still have a lot to learn. So far, we think that vaccines are less effective against Omicron infection and symptomatic disease compared to Delta. Having a booster shot seems to increase protection.”
But vaccines still seem to remain highly effective at protecting people against serious illness, hospitalization and death. Singh believes vaccines remain an effective method to reduce the likelihood of severe disease caused by the Omicron variant. She said the emergence of Omicron means that the protective behaviors remain critical such as keeping a safe distance from others, avoiding crowds, wearing a well-fitted mask, covering mouth and nose, cleaning hands regularly, keeping indoor spaces well ventilated, and covering coughs and sneezes.