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A Wrap on Omicron

The world is in a tumult yet again as more and more covid-19 cases are being reported in almost every corner of the world forcing schools, gatherings, businesses and lives to shut down yet again. The number of cases worldwide is making new records every day with January 10 recording the highest ever single-day rise of 3.15 million cases. India reported its highest new Covid-19 cases since May 16 with 246k on 12 January. This sudden rise has come to be associated with the highly infectious Omicron strain, which was first discovered in South Africa last month.

It takes hardly six seconds for a person to get infected with the Omicron variant from an infected person. 

Amidst the fear and speculation of a possible third wave which we might have already entered into, the social media buzzed with the discovery presence of a new covid-19 strain called Deltacron (named after the identification of Omicron-like genetic signatures within the Delta genomes) in Cyprus. Just a few later, World Health Organization(WHO) debunked this fear and termed it as a genome sequencing error, as bits and pieces of false information continue to choke the social media.

The Omicron variant has taken the world by surprise with its highly infectious but supposedly mild nature. According to World Health Organisation (WHO), it is possible to get the Omicron for the second time. And people who are not vaccinated are at much higher risk. The government of India’s latest policy on vaccination introducing ‘precautionary doses’ to senior citizens with co-morbidities and vaccination for teenagers aged 15-18 might appear to bode well at this moment, but larger consequences need to be traced. This policy has invoked discussions in the scientific committee as well as amongst people, one of it being on the debatable efficacy of the heterologous vaccine strategy adopted by the government which ensures the administration of the same vaccine as the third dose as were used in the first two doses. Ensuring the availability of the same vaccine also depends on the supply of the vaccines as India still struggles to administer the first dose of covid-19 vaccine to almost 10% of its eligible population. Moreover, the sudden announcement of vaccination policy the age group 15-18 raised some questions since the ICMR head had said the matter was still under debate and key questions on to the extent to which antibody levels waxed or waned following immunization, whether booster doses of the same vaccine would be effective, and whether Covaxin and Covishield were differentially protective Omicron was not yet answered.

Also concerning is the fact that while Hyderabad based Bharat Biotech’s vaccine Covaxin was granted technical approval for people above the age of 12, vaccination has been approved only for those above 15 years of age. In effect, India needs to ramp up its vaccine procurement and administration to thwart the severity of the disease against Omicron.

While the country should be securing oxygen tanks and hospital beds, its politicians are busy securing votes. Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh,  Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa to be held in the next few months have prompted all political parties to indulge in large rallies, reminding one of the huge political gatherings preceding the second wave around April.  Election Commission had on January 8 announced the poll schedule for 5 states and banned all physical rallies, roadshows, and padayatra till January 15 owing to the surge in Covid cases in parts of the country. Nevertheless, rampant violations of covid-19 placed restrictions can lead to breakouts and covid clusters. Prime Minister Modi has already addressed huge gatherings in the poll-bound states. So have his political opponents, flouting health guidelines. Recently, the Congress party organised a marathon in which thousands of people ran without masks and were packed tightly. Arvind Kejriwal, the chief

minister of Delhi contracted the disease after he was seen without a mask while leading political rallies in multiple states. Not only does this reveal the negligent and cynical side of the dirty play of politics, but it also has effects that can cost lives. Moreover, the democratic spirit is dampened, weakening the principles of free and fair elections. The Election Commission of India must take action against any violation of its orders.

Experts across different countries have made it clear that sooner or later, everyone is going to be infected with covid-19. Dr Monica Gandhi along with others believes that if things continue as they are, Omicron will help end the pandemic. She was quoted by Bloomberg as saying,

"The virus is always going to be with us, but my hope is this variant causes so much immunity that it will quell the pandemic and become endemic"

Things however would be different if a new and dangerous covid-19 strain emerges. But not everyone is this optimistic. Some have anticipated severity of infection in the high-risk categories such as the unvaccinated. For the time being, the focus should be on vaccination for all and booster shots as needed while ensuring social distancing and checking on the social gathering. The politician’s heart needs to be in the right place, prioritizing the lives of the people.

When will COVID-19 go away from our lives? What is next? Would it leave enough power in us to be able to resume our lives, as they stopped their course in 2020? The world has united and become one like never before. There is now a greater acknowledgement of looming issues and concern for the environment, with renewed efforts and vigour. Nations

have helped each other, so have people. While a lot of answers cannot be predicted, the fight must go on.

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