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50% of Omicron cases were double jabbed, masks and surveillance must for breaking transmission chain

70% of all Omicron patients asymptomatic; Omicron has a higher risk of transmission within households than the Delta variant

Written by Kaunain Sheriff M | New Delhi |
Updated: December 25, 2021 6:21:05 pm
The analysis, in terms of clinical symptoms, also shows that 70 per cent of patients are asymptomatic. (File)

Nearly 50 per cent or 87 out of 183 persons detected with the highly transmissible Omicron variant of Coronavirus were fully vaccinated, an analysis of data available with the government reveals.

The findings, government health authorities said, only went to emphasise that “vaccine alone is not sufficient to contain this pandemic” and that use of masks and surveillance is key to breaking the chain of transmission.

On Friday, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan released an analysis of 183 Omicron cases detected in India. As many as 96 Omicron cases (of the total 183) whose vaccination status is known, 87 (nine of 10 or 91 per cent) were fully jabbed; three of whom had received booster shots too. Two were partially vaccinated and seven unvaccinated.

The vaccination status of 73 persons was not known and 16 were not eligible for vaccination. While the travel history of 18 Omicron cases is not known, an analysis of the remaining 165 shows that 121 or 73 per cent had a history of travel abroad. Significantly, 27 per cent of these 165 cases, did not have a foreign travel history, indicating the presence of Omicron in the community.

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The analysis, in terms of clinical symptoms, also shows that 70 per cent patients are asymptomatic, said ICMR Director General Balram Bhargava. “The infection with Omicron does not necessarily lead to severe symptomatic clinical disease. In India, about a third of all detected cases were mildly symptomatic, and the rest were asymptomatic. Therefore, I want to emphasise that treatment of Omicron in symptomatic individuals remains the same,” he said.

VK Paul, Member (Health), Niti Aayog, and head of India’s Covid-19 task force warned that the Omicron variant has a higher risk of transmission within the households as compared to Delta. That one person who brings 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,” he said.

According to Bhargava, the predominant strain in India is still Delta, including the recently identified clusters. “Therefore, we need to continue with the same strategy: Covid-19 appropriate behaviour, and ramping up vaccination,” he said.

Paul emphasised the need for care, especially given the upcoming festival and New Year. “The new variant emerged during this period. Therefore, responsible behaviour is the way forward. Wearing a mask, hand hygiene, and no crowding. Unnecessary travel must be avoided. We can’t be in large groups. There needs to be constant vigil. The good old containment and surveillance strategy remains a very major approach to pandemic control. We have the vaccination. But vaccination alone is not sufficient to contain this pandemic. There should be special emphasis on contact tracing and perimeter control,” he said.

On Friday, Paul also appealed to private sector hospitals to be ready to “repurpose the beds, should the need arise”. The preparedness should span the entire health system. “Private sector will continue to play a very important role in managing the pandemic… we request them to do the audits, and oversight of their drugs availability, oxygen availability, and really go back on their facility-specific SOPs, so that we are truly ready,” he said.

“Human resources are very important. To run the infrastructure, you need teams. Huge effort has been mounted by the government to create teams and train them. Same thing applies to the private sector. Therefore, an overarching preparedness, in the wake of Omicron, is launched and undertaken,” Paul said.

On Thursday, when the Prime Minister chaired a high-level meeting, Paul said his first message was on district-level infrastructure preparedness against a possible surge. Bhushan gave a detailed break-up of the dedicated oxygen and ICU beds for Covid-19 that are ready in the backdrop of a possible surge: 18.10 lakh isolation beds; 4.94 lakh oxygen supported beds; 1.39 lakh ICU beds; 24,057 paediatric ICU beds; and 64,796 paediatric non-ICU beds.

Bhushan said the experience globally, especially from South Africa, at present, shows that most hospitalised patients did not require additional medical oxygen support. “However, we need to be vigilant. Today, we have created a capacity of 18,836 MT of medical oxygen per day. This is a significant increase in capacity after the second surge,” Bhushan said.

Referring to the WHO statement on booster doses that it should be “firmly evidence-driven”, Paul said the decision on administration of boosters will be driven by science that is applicable to our situation and vaccines administered in India. “…the WHO document states that introducing booster doses should be firmly evidence-driven….in totality, it has to be driven by science that is applicable to our situation; driven by science that is applicable to our vaccines. What you read largely is about other platform vaccines in different settings, and with a different profile of comorbidities, and age profiles in some ways. So, it must be evidence driven. India’s science is very strong. There are intense efforts to culture the virus and we will test our vaccines (against Omicron). Be rest assured the decision for adolescent vaccination and booster doses will be taken on scientific principles and the overarching interest of people of India,” Paul said.

On booster doses, Bhargava, said, “… a great discussion is going on (about boosters). The Covid-19 working group has debated it several times… Deliberations are on. We are reviewing all the scientific data from across the world as well as from India: about T-cell response, antibody response, with a particular vaccine and with another vaccine. We are looking at how long it persists after infection.”

The health ministry Friday said 358 Omicron cases had been in India; out of this, 114 have fully recovered. Six states have reported more than 30 Omicron cases: Maharashtra (88); Delhi (67); Telangana (38); Tamil Nadu (34); Karnataka (31); and Gujarat (30). Bhushan, also highlighted that the country’s first dose coverage has touched 90 per cent of the adult population; however, 11 states – in which the coverage is lower than the national average – are a “cause of concern. These include four large states: Uttar Pradesh (84%); Maharashtra (87%); Bihar (78%); and Tamil Nadu (85%).

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