Omicron should not be viewed as common cold, experience will help in dealing with surge: Experts – ET HealthWorld


New Delhi: Amidst a rapid surge in cases across the country, experts from the Centre highlighted that Omicron should not be taken lightly as its property of high transmissibility can contribute to overwhelmed health systems if strict Covid-Appropriate Behaviour is not observed. Health experts further expanded on the national COVID treatment protocol, testing strategies adopted, vaccination coverage and the overall preparedness to deal with further rise in cases.

Lav Agarwal, Joint Secretary, Health Ministry informed that India has witnessed a steep upward surge in cases with average daily cases rising to 1,50,307 and positivity rate rising to 9.82 per cent for the last week. Further highlighted that over 19 states in the country now have over 10,000 active cases which has increased steeply in a narrow timeframe.

Amongst the emerging states of concern are Maharashtra with 22.39 percent positivity rate and over 2.5 lakh weekly cases, West Bengal with 32.18 percent positivity rate and over 1.3 lakh weekly cases and Delhi with 23.1 percent and over 1.2 lakh weekly cases. Over 300 districts have crossed the threshold of 5 percent weekly positivity rate.

Vaccination coverage:
A total of 153.8 crore doses have now been administered in the country. While 92% of the total population has received the first dose of COVID vaccines, 68 percent are now fully vaccinated with both the doses.

18.86 crore precaution doses have now been administered to the eligible groups under the booster dose programme in view of the rising cases. 38% of the population in the 15-18 years age group have been administered their first dose of Covaxin.

12 states/UTs have reported 100 per cent first dose coverage with many states on the verge of achieving full coverage for first dose. Meanwhile, three states/UTs including Lakshadweep, Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Jammu & Kashmir have reported 100 percent second dose coverage.

Testing strategy adopted in the country:
Expanding on the COVID-19 testing capacity of the country, Dr Balram Bhargava, Director General, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) highlighted that the capacity has now been significantly ramped up with 205 RT PCR test kits, 53 Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT), 7 Home Antigen Tests (HAT) now been approved for COVID testing.

Dr Bhargava further highlighted that the Lateral Flow Tests (RAT and HAT) detect Corona in 3-8 days (Infectious period) after exposure while PCR continues to detect it even after 8 days. The home isolation/ discharge policy focuses on LFT based 7-day infectious period.

Expanding on the increase in use of LFTs, Dr Bhargava said, “PCR tests continue to be positive even after day 8 because certain RNA particles which are non-infective will continue to be shed and will lead to RT-PCR test turning out positive. For Omicron however, what has become the backbone is the Lateral Flow Tests. RT-PCR has been used as a confirmatory test to confirm the presence of the virus.”

Over 747 diagnostic kits have been approved by ICMR along with other validated kits by 24 Government-approved centres. This takes the total weekly production capacity of testing kits to over 1.2 crore.

Speaking on the availability of HAT, Dr Bhargava said, “The Home Antigen Tests (HAT) which are now becoming popular are available at chemists, it is available online for technologically savvy people and for those who can’t afford it, it is available in Jan Aushadhi stores and people who want to distribute it is available on the government E-market. Seven of them are available with the total weekly production capacity of over 1.2 Crore.”

Dr VK Paul, Health Official, NITI Aayog highlighted that the newly detected variant Omicron should not be viewed as common cold and should not be taken lightly, as has been highlighted by the World Health Organization (WHO). He highlighted that it has led to the collapse of healthcare systems in many nations which is a reason enough to worry about its spread.

COVID treatment protocol:
Health experts highlighted that a detailed inventory of step-by step guidelines for treatment of COVID cases has been released by the Health Ministry after studying and reviewing all the data available. It was highlighted that the experience and expertise has led to development of better strategies to counter COVID.

Speaking on the inclusion of approved COVID antiviral drug Molnupiravir in the treatment protocol, health experts noted that it has not been included in the guidelines till now as they had few observation from the trials and available data.

Experts stated that Molnupiravir has certain risks that warrant caution in its use. Further cited that there is a rampant and irrational use of Molnupiravir. Efforts should be made to restrict its use as known and unknown harms far outweigh its claimed benefits

Further informed tha the currently available synthesized evidence was reviewed and the members unanimously agreed that it does not merit the inclusion of Molnupiravir in the national treatment guidelines. The emerging evidence will constantly be reviewed.

It was further highlighted that the current clinical window of application appears extremely narrow for Molnupiravir with relevance only to the following: elderly, unvaccinated with other comorbidities. There was no evidence for benefit in diabetes and those who were previously infected with COVID-19 or were vaccinated.

The variant present in dominance:

Commenting on the dominant variant present in the recently detected COVID cases and related deaths, Dr VK Paul noted, “It is not possible to evidently analyze whether Omicron is the cause behind surge or hospitalization. Genomic Sequencing cannot be done for everyone but one factor that can be highlighted here is that the Omicron is replacing Delta as has been observed in many countries like the US and UK. While Omicron might have been dominant, Delta is still there.”





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