Rajat Sharma

Covid cases spiralling: Exercise utmost caution

akbWith the spread of Covid pandemic across India remaining unabated, the Centre has given approval for emergency use of anti-viral drug Molnupiravir with some specific conditions and restrictions. I had mentioned this drug in my earlier show of ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ last week. This is an effective drug to fight Covid-19, but its use has been restricted to only senior citizens and patients with co-morbidities only. This drug could be harmful for people in the reproductive age group.

Guidelines for use of Molnupiravir were issued on Tuesday by the government. For people below the age of 60 years, this drug can be prescribed for those having co-morbidities like diseases of heart, kidney, liver, cancer or diabetes. Those in the reproductive age group should refrain from using this anti-viral drug because it can cause mutations in the body and impact the reproductive system. Serious Covid-19 patients can take this 800 mg drug daily twice and a five-day course of this tablet can bring about a remarkable recovery rate. The Covid task force chief Dr N K Arora has said that this drug must be taken under medical supervision only.

Developed by multinational drug company Merck, Molnupiravir has been prescribed for use in the US and UK for Covid-19 patients. This drug is being manufactured in India by Mankind Pharma under license and 13 other Indian drug companies are also going to manufacture the same. Clinical trial of this drug was conducted on nearly 1,000 patients and the results were positive. The authorities in the US have also allowed use of another drug Paxlovid, made by Pfizer for use on Covid patients. In the UK, another drug named Evusheld, a long-acting antibody combination, developed by AstraZeneca has been approved for use on experimental basis by authorities.

In another positive step, the Indian Council for Medical Research has issued a fresh set of guidelines on testing of Covid-19 samples. It has said, contact of Covid-19 patients need not be tested unless identified as high-risk, based on age or co-morbidities. Only patients who are symptomatic, showing signs of cough, fever, sore throat, loss of taste or smell, breathlessness or respiratory problems need to be tested. People above 60 years of age and having problems of hypertension, diabetes, chronic lung or kidney disease, malignancy or obesity need to be tested. Asymptomatic individuals, patients discharged under home isolation, and individuals undertaking inter-state domestic travel, need not be tested. International travellers arriving at airports or sea ports must undergo tests.

These steps have been taken in view of the less lethal nature of the new Omicron variant which only affects the trachea and does not reach the lungs. Such patients have no trouble in breathing though they have problems of cough and sore throat. The oxygen level does not dip. Only senior citizens or those having co-morbidities are presently in ICU after getting infected with the virus, because they have low immune system.

On Tuesday, more than 1.68 lakh new Covid cases were reported across India, and the active case load is now over eight lakhs. Out of these, only 4,461 cases are related to Omicron variant. Lesser number of genome sequencing is done because of prohibitive cost which ranges from Rs 15-20,000 per sample. 27 out of 32 samples tested in Nagpur were found having Omicron variant through genome sequencing. This comes to nearly 82 per cent. The government agrees that Omicron could soon outweigh the Delta variant, but it is not much lethal. Eightyeight per cent adults in India have taken at least one dose of vaccine. Dr N K Arora, the task force chief, says, only following Covid protocol seriously is the only way to stop the spread of the virus.

I want to sound a note of caution. Please do not take the threat lightly only because Omicron variant is less lethal. The number of cases is seven times more compared to the second wave when the Delta variant swept the country. Though the hospitalization rate is low this time, the number of cases is too high. If the number of cases rises exponentially, it can bring pressure on our healthcare system.

Large number of doctors, health care workers and frontline workers are getting infected almost daily. 196 doctors were tested positive in Chandigarh, more than 300 doctors tested positive in Bihar, and more than 200 doctors tested positive in Lucknow alone. If doctors go into isolation, other patients would suffer despite hospitals having beds and oxygen. Everybody should try to protect himself from the virus. 63 crore Indians have already taken both the vaccine doses. Eightyeight per cent of the adult population has already taken one dose of vaccine. India is the world’s second most populous nation. And look at what is happening in neighbouring China, the world’s most populous country.

In ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ show on Tuesday night, we showed rows of single room Covid detention camps in China, where Covid infected persons are being forced to remain inside. In each matchbox type room, having a small washroom, the Covid patient is forced to stay, and prohibited from moving outside. Chinese authorities carry out night time raids in residential areas, pick up people and forcibly take them in buses to these horrible Covid detention camps, where an individual is denied his right to freedom.

In Anyang city in China, with a population of 52 lakhs, only 57 Covid cases were detected. The authorities imposed a strict lockdown on the entire city and the entire population is now undergoing RT-PCR tests. Presently, three cities in China are under complete lockdown. Nobody is allowed to move out from home. Compared to India, where people having mild Covid infection are allowed to stay in home isolation, the picture is different in China. Covid infected persons are forcibly taken to detention camps in buses.

Covid cases are also spiralling in the US, UK, France, Australia and Italy. Movement restrictions have been imposed in several cities of these countries. In India, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru and several other cities are the hot spots with thousands of cases being reported daily. We, in India, cannot impose strong restrictions that have been clamped in a totalitarian state like China.

While following Covid protocols strictly, we should try to understand what doctors have said. The new Omicron variant is less lethal, it is active for only three to four days, and, by the seventh day, the patient recovers fully. Very few people need hospitalization. The third wave is expected to subside by next month, and the signs will be visible towards the end of January. Till then, all of us should move around with masks, maintain social distancing and wash our hands frequently for 20 seconds. This is the safest method to keep yourselves protected.

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