With new coronavirus variant emerging, no room for complacency

Picture used for representative purpose only.  

The anxiety expressed by the Centre that the lack of sustained COVID-19 testing levels across States would “hide the true level of infection in a geography” seems to be justified now that a new SARS CoV-2 variant, B.1.1.529 or Omicron, has been reported from many nations.

With the waning of the second wave of COVID-19, a sense of complacency and a general feeling that the end of the pandemic is just around the corner, had set in everywhere. COVID-19 testing rates, which had dropped everywhere, might be back in relevance now that the vigil is being heightened to look out for the new variant.

From an average 1.3-1.5 lakh tests daily during the thick of the pandemic, the State’s testing had dwindled to about 50,000.

The Union Health Secretary had on November 23 written to 13 States highlighting the need for continued vigil given the unpredictable and contagious nature of the disease.

Uncertain course

“Unpredictable is the key word there. There is no room for complacency as the future course of the pandemic is still uncertain. Even when the State believes that it can vaccinate its way out of the pandemic, the heterogeneous nature of the immunity against COVID-19 in the State’s population (there are people who recovered from COVID, who have robust natural immunity against the virus, as well as those who are fully vaccinated yet never been exposed to the virus) means that we cannot be certain whether the next variant will result in a wave or not,” a senior public health expert said.

The Centre has directed Kerala and many other States to maintain a high level of testing so that the actual level of infection and any trends are not missed.

Senior health officials maintained that while the State had not given any formal direction, testing levels had gone down because the resources available with districts had dwindled. Hence the RT-PCR labs in public sector could handle only a limited number of samples a day.

Of the 20,000-strong COVID brigade, including doctors, nurses and other technical staff, the State has retained only 625 personnel.

A good proportion of the tests done now is contributed by the private sector.

“Symptomatic illnesses like ILI are still being tested and tracked. However, the free mobile testing labs have been stopped and after the disbanding of the COVID-19 brigade, all districts are struggling to find human resources to carry out COVID-related activities. Also antigen tests, which used to be done in large numbers, are not done any more at that scale,” a health official said.

Home testing

Now that ICMR-approved home testing kits are easily available, many do self testing and go to hospital only if symptoms do not subside. These case numbers will not figure in the State’s records.

“It is true that entire families, where all adults are fully vaccinated, are getting infected now. In most offices too, small clusters can be found. But people are not scared because the message we have given them is that vaccination protects them from severe illness. Vaccinated persons with mild symptoms avoid testing, leading to greater transmission. Though hospitalisations have come down, daily deaths have not come down as expected. But the arrival of the new variant can complicate this,” he added.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2022 3:25:33 AM |

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