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Chandigarh: ‘Enhanced surveillance vital to detect the early warning signs’

Amid concerns over spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, Prof Lakshmi said, "We need to get immediate data on the areas from where these cases are being reported, whether the people have been vaccinated or not and also their travel history."

Written by Parul | Chandigarh |
Updated: December 22, 2021 7:23:57 am
The emergence of Omicron, is also a matter of concern, with many countries witnessing a surge in new infections. (File)

It was last in July that Chandigarh witnessed more than 100 active cases. After almost four months, on December 21, the city recorded 104 active cases, with the number rising steadily since the past one week. The average number of positive cases in the last seven days is 10, with the positivity rate (cumulative) being 7.69. While experts wait before terming the slow but steady rise in new Covid-19 cases as the third wave, they all agree that prevention and breaking the link of infection are the keys to controlling the spread.

The emergence of Omicron, is also a matter of concern, with many countries witnessing a surge in new infections. The new strain is characterised by multiple mutations in the spike and nucleocapsid proteins that allows the virus easier entry into cells than the Delta variant.

Prof PVM Lakshmi, Professor, Community Medicine and School of Public Health, highlighted that enhanced surveillance will be important to detect the early warning signs and prompt initiation of public health and social measures.

“Whatever evidence we are looking at, symptoms of Omicron are mild and asymptomatic. As far as the third wave is concerned, it’s too early to comment but we have to keep a watch in case something new emerges. Many people were infected in the second wave of the pandemic and got natural immunity without vaccination. Right now, there is not enough data for us to know the efficacy of the vaccines against Omicron. It spreads rapidly as compared to the Delta variant which means it’s more transmissible. But the infections so far have been not very severe. There have been reports of breakthrough infections and these could be in pockets where there is neither natural immunity nor vaccinated people.” Prof Lakshmi said.

She further added, “We need to get immediate data on the areas from where these cases are being reported, whether the people have been vaccinated or not and also their travel history. We have to pick and study such cases for the control of the spread of infection. Risk factors need to be assessed as cases are still few. It is essential to track every member, quarantine people in case of any doubt, and test immediately. We have to observe Covid-19 appropriate behaviour as studies have shown that a mask is better than social distancing. It is the most important measure. New mutations can lead to reinfections and that’s why the WHO has sent out an alert that we need to be prepared against Omicron. The situation needs to be reviewed frequently and in another two weeks the situation will be clearer. As many as 70 per cent of families in Chandigarh have already been infected without vaccination and with vaccination, so we do have a high percentage of immunity. Like Kerala, we need to do aggressive contact tracing and testing.”

Prof Pankaj Malhotra from the Department of Internal Medicine, PGI said that viruses die a natural death. “But not in this case, as we see new variants emerging. The major problem is our behaviour, as people refuse to mask up, wearing masks on their chins. With markets full of people and the festive season on, I don’t know how we can escape the third wave,” he said. The new variants, he added, are worrisome and right now data is still emerging on the effectiveness of the vaccines against the new mutants. “We have to learn from our mistakes and I appeal to people to wear masks and avoid crowding to save us from another wave,” he said.

The virus remains in circulation, so the only way to prevent a serious third wave is to be cautious responsible, observes Prof Rakesh Kochhar, PGI. New variants, he said, could be dangerous, and to keep pace we need to study the virulence of strains and be ahead of the constant threat. “We vaccinate against the known mutants and in the long-term, the virus may lose virulence, but till 70 per cent of our population is vaccinated, we are at risk of more waves.”

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