With at least nine in 10 persons getting infected by the highly infectious omicron variant, the Centre emphasized that vaccine alone is not sufficient to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. It reminded that the use of masks and surveillance is key to breaking the chain of transmission.
An analysis of 183 omicron cases in India by the Centre showed that 27% of the cases did not have a history of foreign travel. It shows that 87 persons were fully vaccinated of which three had received booster shots too. Only seven among the 183 persons were unvaccinated while two were partially vaccinated. The Centre said that the vaccination status of 73 of those analyzed was not known and 16 were not eligible for vaccinations.
Dr VK Paul, head of India’s COVID-19 task force, warned that the omicron has a higher risk of transmission within the households as compared to the delta variant. “It is clear that it is spreading in households because omicron is highly transmissible compared to the delta. That one person who brings in the infection from outside, because he didn’t wear a mask outdoors, will infect others in the house. This risk is higher in omicron. We should keep this in mind.”
Dr Paul emphasized the need for care and pointed out that the new variant emerged during the festivity period. “Responsible behavior such as wearing a mask, hand hygiene and no crowding is the way forward. Unnecessary travel has to be avoided. We can’t be in large groups. There needs to be constant vigil. The containment and surveillance strategies remain to be one of the major approaches to control the pandemic. We have the vaccination but that alone is not sufficient to contain the pandemic. There should be special emphasis on contact tracing and perimeter control.”
The analysis also reveals that 70% of patients are asymptomatic. Dr Balram Bharghava, DG ICMR, said the predominant strain in India is still delta, including the recently-identified clusters. “We need to continue with the same strategy – COVID-19 appropriate behavior and ramping up vaccination. The infection with omicron does not necessarily lead to severe symptomatic clinical disease.”
Dr Bharghava said that in India, about a third of all the detected cases were mildly symptomatic and the rest were asymptomatic. He emphasized that the treatment of omicron in symptomatic individuals remains the same.
Dr Paul called for the private sector hospitals to be ready to repurpose the beds, should the need arise. “The preparedness includes the entire health system-level preparedness. The private sector will continue to play the important role in managing the pandemic. We request them to do the audits and oversight of their availability of drugs and oxygen, and go back to their facility-specific SoPs, so that we are truly ready.”