Omicron: No need for panic but be prepared and follow the basics

The pandemic is now harder to predict than the stock market. People saying what “will” happen with certainty are guessing at best, say Dr Faheem Younus and Prof Bhramar Mukherjee

Representative image
Representative image

NH Web Desk

Here are the views of two respected scientists on how to prepare for Omnicron:

Dr Faheem Younus

Chief of Infectious Diseases, University of Maryland

All of the following are important steps to control Omicron:

• Rapid tests before gatherings

• Time off if exposed or sick

• Install HEPA filters

• Work remotely

• Vaccinate 3rd shot

Never forget however, that to a vast majority, these are luxuries which they can’t afford.

The goal is to make Covid a disease that can be treated at home without toppling systems. We have the tools to achieve that goal. But we lack balanced messaging and trustworthy voices.

Misplaced Fears:

People who are masked, vaccinated and follow rules are Terrified of Omicron (they should be calm).

People who still mock masks, vaccines, and science are filling up the hospitals (they should be terrified).

The pandemic is now harder to predict than the stock market. People saying what “will” happen with certainty are guessing at best. Just like the market, stick to the fundamentals and you should be fine.

Prof Bhramar Mukherjee

Professor of Epidemiology, University of Michigan

The Omicron wave is staring India in the eye. Expectedly so. India is not an exception in the world. I am scared when I hear from friends “no worries, this one is mild”. Here are five reasons you may not want to get Omi-Covid. Let us try to prevent Covid 2022.

1. In terms of getting an infection, the world data shows people with vaccination and past infection are again at appreciable risk of getting Covid, without boosters. Many people in India have had both vaccination and Covid. But we do not have data yet.

2. With a lot of people falling sick over a short period of time, even if a small fraction needs medical care, the burden will stress the system. This will affect care of other diseases. We know disruption in care leads to mortality. The cost of Covid is not just Covid.

3. We do not know much about breakthroughs in long Covid. Particularly in people with preexisting conditions. Let us protect the vulnerable.

4. Let us prevent more mutations from happening. What we do, affects others and the future. Our healthcare workers are humans. (Infection in large number of people facilitate mutations).

5. Children and young adults are not yet vaccinated in India. The world data shows excellent recovery rates for children and young adults but again, prevention is better than cure.

Nearly 40% population in India is below 18. That is a large number. Nearly half a billion.

No one wants lockdowns. But there is a middle road. Choose prudence over panic. Wear masks. They work. Avoid large indoor gatherings. Interact in wellventillated spaces. Use home tests before an event. Get vaccinated. The vaccines are still holding up against severe infections.

Pandemics typically die in damped oscillatory manner, not overnight, we may have to fight Covid in 2022. No one knows Covid’s curve balls and end game.

Is India ready to deal with a third wave and a third year of the pandemic? Have we ramped up our health system and are we better prepared? The jury is out. Professor of Epidemiology in University of Michigan Prof Bhramar Mukherjee tweeted this week that a large number of Indians are again susceptible to the new variants and there is no room for complacency. Stating that focus on international travellers is not enough, she recommends:

• Genome surveillance at the district level

• Making vaccines available to the unvaccinated and for the booster dose

• Mandatory masks

• Innovative use of the outdoor spaces

• Sharing of data

India, she stresses, cannot fall back on the ‘paucity, opacity or denial’ of data.

This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday.

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