‘Covid wave can be slowed by preventing personal infections’
Mumbai on Wednesday recorded the highest ever single-day caseload of 15,014 Covid-19 infections
Mumbai on Wednesday recorded the highest ever single-day caseload of 15,014 Covid-19 infections. The third wave driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant is anticipated to be much bigger even as a large number of infections are said to be in the less-severe category. Yet, as infections spread widely, some percentage of people will remain susceptible to severe disease. Hospitalisations have seen an uptick in Mumbai, and laboratories are overloaded with samples, as the surge begins to unfold. HT spoke to epidemiologist Jayaprakash Muliyil, who is also a member of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) about his perspective on the Omicron wave and strategies that need to be looked at. Edited excerpts:
How do you see the third wave unfolding in the next few days?
If you count the cases and plot them on a graph, you will see the wave. But when you look around, you will not see a wave. In other words, you will not hear people succumbing to the infection and people getting admitted in the Intensive Care Units (ICUs). If we truly measure all those who get infected, this wave is going to be much bigger than the Delta, but not its impact. One must remember that Omicron causes milder disease. By nature, this variant doesn’t attack the lungs. It is more fond of the bronchial tree. So, instead of pneumonia, most patients will land up with bronchitis which may not be as dangerous. It means that consequent problems like haematological disorders or severe hypoxia won’t happen too much. However, we can’t get rid of the severe problems completely, as there will be some susceptible people.
What should be the hospitalisations protocol in this case?
We should use our resources judiciously. Hospitals should not unnecessarily admit people who are simply sneezing or have a cough. It is fine to admit someone who has a high fever, difficulty in breathing, or such things, but otherwise, the infection caused by Omicron is just a mild cold, but a glorified cold because of its important ancestry.
Overall, what should the government authorities focus on in the coming days?
Respiratory infections like these have a tendency to infect others with ferocity. There is no way we can prevent it from spreading. We can slow it down by being careful about preventing personal infections. But in a population-based approach, it is not easy. The focus should be on individuals acting smartly. The government should have the right educational strategies to tell people that they may get the infection and that they should try their best to avoid getting it, especially if they are in the high-risk group. It would be best for the government arms to not pre-decide how they are going to react. They should rather be flexible as we go along. The most important intervention would be not to let too many hospitalisations happen in the name of Omicron.
How important is it to test for Omicron?
When many tests return positive, they only show us that there is an epidemic going on. Yet, the test positivity rate is no reflection of the true number of cases in the community; it is just a fraction that is being picked up. It is okay if people with mild symptoms don’t rush to test. Test only when a medical expert needs it to make certain decisions. Again, as I mentioned earlier, the Omicron-driven infections are going to be like a mild cold. Secondly, there is no need to overwhelm the genome sequencing laboratories by sending a huge number of samples to detect Omicron. If we need real-time data, we should be careful that genome sequencing laboratories are not overloaded. Only samples required to analyse variant related trends in the states should be sequenced in a scientific way.