Omicron: Health infra scaled up to combat Covid waves

Amid Omicron scare, health infra scaled up to combat future Covid waves in India

Though the Covid-19 epidemic is shrinking in India, the number of infections caused by Omicron is on a slow rise

Representative image. Credit: PTI file photo

More than 7 lakh hospital beds and enhanced daily medical oxygen capacity – 80% more than the peak demand during the second Covid-19 wave – were readied to tackle any new Covid-19 wave, a top health official said here on Friday with experts anticipating a new surge driven by the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2.

“The world is witnessing the fourth surge with 9.64 lakh cases being reported on Dec 23. We can’t afford to lose our guard. We have to be fully cautious and vigilant,” Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said at a press conference.

Though the Covid-19 epidemic is shrinking in India, the number of infections caused by Omicron is on a slow rise with the Union Health Ministry confirming 358 such cases till early morning Friday. Maharashtra, Delhi, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka account for nearly 250 of these cases.

Read | Of 183 Omicron cases, 87 were fully vaccinated: Centre

Worryingly, there seems to be a rise in new Covid-19 cases in Mumbai and Delhi with the former reporting over 1000 fresh Covid-19 cases for three consecutive days after two months and the national capital reporting 180 fresh cases in the last 24 hours – a six months high.

An analysis of 183 Omicron cases show 87 fully vaccinated persons were infected by the new variant of concerns whereas 70% were asymptomatic. Out of 183, there are 18 persons who were neither foreign travelers nor local contacts, indicating the possibility of local transmission.

Earlier this week, the ministry alerted the states on Omicron’s three times more ability to spread than the Delta variant that drove the second wave. The early evidence from South Africa and UK, however, point out a milder disease with no signs of the hospitals getting overwhelmed yet.

Bhushan said 4.94 lakh oxygen supported beds and 1.39 lakh ICU beds were available and another 1.2 lakh such beds were sanctioned under a government funded programme.

Also the medical oxygen capacity has been raised to more than 18,000 tons per day, which is 80% more than the peak demand of around 10,000 tons seen during the ferocious second wave. In addition there are 65,000 paediatric beds and 24,000 paediatric ICU beds.

Read | Pressure mounts on India to begin boosters as Omicron spreads

"There is a huge scale up in oxygen availability. I also request the private healthcare sector to be ready with proper training and deployment plans for their manpower,” said NITI Ayog member VK Paul, the government’s principal advisor on Covid-19.

Poor vaccination coverage in some of the biggest states, however, remains a cause of worry. As against the national average of 61% of adults getting two doses of Covid-19 shot, the corresponding figures in poll bound Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Manipur are 46%, 40% and 42% respectively.

Other big states with low full vaccination coverage are Maharashtra (56%), Tamil Nadu (55%), Bihar (52%) and Jharkhand (42%).

Meanwhile, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana have imposed night curfews to stop New Year celebrations. The states took the decision after Prime Minister Narendra Modi reviewed the Omicron situation and asked everyone to be Satark (vigilant) and Saavdhan (careful) as the fight against the pandemic was not over.

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