Rajat Sharma

Covid Pandemic: India is fully prepared to meet the challenge


There is the threat of the new Omicron variant of Coronavirus looming over all of us, but I am sorry to note that people are behaving irresponsibly in some cities. There are more than fifty cases of people arriving in India from southern Africa, and then vanishing by giving false contact phone number and addresses. State authorities are finding it difficult to trace them and their contacts.

This reminds me of how people behaved irresponsibly last year in March and April, when the pandemic first broke. Those arriving from abroad are being asked to remain in isolation for seven days, despite testing negative, but in many cases these travellers have vanished. Some of them were later traced and were tested positive. In Karnataka, AP and Tamil Nadu more than 45 travellers, who came from abroad, have vanished.

The most worrying news came from Jaipur, where an NRI family came from South Africa to take part in a wedding. Some of their relatives were later tested positive, and when the NRI family members were tested, four of them including two kids were tested positive. Authorities are now trying to trace their primary and secondary contacts. Genome sequencing of all those tested positive is in progress. This family did not come to India directly from South Africa. They came via Dubai, and this avoided compulsory RT-PCR testing at the airport. On November 25, when the family arrived at Mumbai airport, they showed a negative RT-PCR report taken 48 hours ago. On November 28, the family travelled to Jaipur, and attended a wedding ceremony at Royal City Palace hotel, and now the entire family has been tested positive. There were several hundred guests at the wedding. It is now difficult to trace all these contacts.

Similarly, another NRI family came to Jaipur from the US to attend a wedding. The family later went to Delhi and Vaishno Devi shrine, visited Bikaner and returned to Jaipur. On November 27, they were tested and two children in the family were tested positive. The family stayed in India for two weeks, and by the time, the children were reported positive, the family had returned to the US. It has now become a headache for Jaipur authorities to trace all their primary and secondary contacts.

In a third case in Jaipur, a former minister Brij Kishore Sharma was tested positive on December 1. He was present at a meeting of top Congress leaders on November 30, to plan a party rally scheduled to be addressed by Rahul Gandhi in Jaipur on December 12. Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot, his ministers, the state unit chief and more than 50 MLAs and local leaders were present at the meeting. Most of them were sitting without masks, close to one another. The entire Congress party machinery is now worried and all of those who were present at the meeting have been asked to get themselves tested. Since nearly one lakh people are expected to attend the rally, somebody filed a case in court seeking ban on this rally. In reply, a local Congress leader filed another case in court seeking ban on Home Minister Amit Shah’s proposed road show in Jaipur on December 5.

You may recall the second wave of pandemic started from Jaipur, Indore, Pune and Nagpur during April this year. People were hiding their test reports and the virus spread fast. Similar cases are now happening, also in southern states.

In Karnataka, where two cases of Omicron variant have been found, ten travellers who had arrived from abroad are missing. Their phones are switched off. Fifty seven travellers arrived in Karnataka during the past two weeks. Many of them did not undergone RT-PCR tests, because they had arrived before November 24 in Bengaluru from South Africa. At that time, Omicron variant had not been detected in most of the countries. Out of 57 travellers, 47 people were traced by police, but the remaining ten have vanished. The state government is now appealing to these people to come forward and get themselves tested.

In neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, 30 travellers who had come from abroad, have vanished. Out of 60 travellers who arrived in Visakhapatnam from abroad, three were from South Africa, and six were from Botswana. Out of them, six have been traced, and the remaining three have vanished. AP government has also appealed to these travellers to come forward for testing. One can easily imagine why these travellers are evading detection. Once a person is tested positive, he or she will have to stay in isolation in a dedicated ward at a government hospital. By doing so, these travellers from abroad are putting thousands of Indians at risk. In Tamil Nadu, a traveller arriving from Singapore to Tiruchirappalli, and another NRI from UK who arrived in Chennai, have been tested positive, and their samples have been sent for genome sequencing.

Meanwhile, in all metros and big cities, local health authorities have made preparations on a war footing. In Mumbai, BMC has re-activated its special Covid Centre, equipped with war room, wards, oxygen flow meters, oxygen tanks and oxygen manufacturing unit. All hospitals run by BMC have been kept prepared to face any eventuality. At the jumbo Covid Centre in BKC, 2,328 beds have been kept ready. The good news is that, till now, this centre is empty and not a single bed is occupied. Mumbai Mayor said, 288 samples have been sent for genome sequencing. Till now, not a single Omicron case has been detected.

Similarly, in Gujarat, the number of beds and ventilators have been doubled in hospitals to meet any eventuality. More than 1,10,000 hospital beds have been kept ready. During second wave of pandemic, there was a demand for 65,000 hospital beds. 25,000 ICU beds have also been kept ready. The state government has purchased 10,000 new ventilators, and more oxygen generators are also being bought. 400 PSA oxygen generators have been installed across Gujarat. More than 400 pressure swing oxygen plants have been kept ready. Two travellers arriving from Botswana have been tested Covid positive. A South African arriving in Jamnagar was also tested positive. In Jamnagar alone, 34 Covid cases have been detected so far.

In Delhi, 12 suspected Omicron cases have been found. Among them four each are from Britain and France, and one each from The Netherlands and Tanzania. The LNJP hospital lab is among the 37 labs across India which have genome sequencing facility. 40 beds in LNJP hospital have been kept separate for travellers coming from abroad. Experts say, that the Omicron variant will surely travel faster, but they are divided over whether this variant will be lethal or not.

Some experts say, this variant may not cause deaths on a large scale like the Delta variant that caused havoc during the second wave of pandemic, and that there should be no reason for panic. They say, this variant may not cause acute breathing problems. Secondly, due to large scale vaccinations, there is presently more than 70 per cent herd immunity among people. Even if the third wave comes, India’s health infrastructure is fully prepared.

In Parliament, Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said that Indian labs can now do genome sequencing within 30 hours, compared to the earlier time period of 30 days. He claimed that more than 44 thousand ventilators have been installed across India, and their installation reports and fitness certificates have been received from state governments.

There is no denying the fact that India is ready to face the onslaught of a third wave, if it comes. Our testing labs are ready, tracing system is in place and genome sequencing can be done fast, within a span of 30 hours. Vaccination drive is going on at full pace. Nearly 50 per cent of Indians above the age of 18 years have got double doses. The number of Covid infection cases is on the decline, and hospitals are presently not under much pressure. India has its health infrastructure ready in comparison with those of developed nations.

The only problem is that the virus is mutating into several variants at a fast pace, and it is difficult to keep track of these mutations. A majority of Indians followed Covid guidelines, our doctors and health workers worked day and night, our scientists contributed their mite in preparing vaccines and Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the battle from the front. The danger still lurks. Caution is the need of the hour. I have a gut feeling that the Omicron variant could be the last phase of the war against Corona. If we remain alert, keep on our masks while travelling outside, stay away from crowds, then we can save ourselves and our great nation.

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