If there is one thing that the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed in all its glory more than anything, it’s the unrelenting incompetence of governments, politicians, scientific community and institutions (both state-run or private) across the world.
No one in the developing or the developed world has shown the smarts to deal with the virus with the maturity that the situations warranted. It’s not without reason that people have lost trust and developed Covid fatigue and a vast majority is now mentally prepared to live with the virus.
But what are the governments doing? They are hell bent on doing the same things again and again, expecting different results, fitting the definition of insanity.
In India, we have now started a separate counter to keep track of positive cases of the Omicron variant, as if running the Covid-19 cases tracker wasn’t futile enough at this stage of the pandemic.
Various states have announced restrictions on public gatherings — which is totally fine — but one wonders how much can one control the virus by restricting public gatherings to 200 people instead of 500.
Then there are absolutely senseless night curfews that have been imposed in a number of states while election rallies are going on in the day in five poll-bound states.
We have vaccine mandates for travel and stay (some states like Haryana are now even starting to mandate them in public places as well) but there is enough evidence now to prove that vaccines are not effective in stopping the spread of infection as tens of thousands of fully vaccinated people are being infected all over the world.
This is not to say that we don’t need to do anything to prepare for a Omicron wave. As this author wrote a couple of weeks back, our toolkit for Covid-22 can’t be the same we deployed for Covid-19. When the World Health Organisation (WHO) had termed Omicron as a variant of concern within a week of identification and reporting of its lineage (B.1.1.529) to the Pango network, it was an unprecedented move.
Even for Delta, WHO took more than a month to declare it as VOC.
The initial signs were surely pointing towards a variant which was much more transmissible than anything we witnessed before. Its virulence was yet to be ascertained, but it made sense to err on the side of caution.
But did the governments show any concern? No. Now, when the evidence from South Africa, where Omicron wave is on a steady decline after peaking, and the United Kingdom, where the virus is still surging, is out, showing that it’s much less severe than previous variants, the governments are going into panic when it should’ve been the other way round.
Essentially, no lessons learnt.
At the very least, it’s time we stopped these counters that keep track of positive cases.
This graph plot for South Africa’s Gauteng province tells us why. The peak of positive cases in the Omicron wave were almost same as during Delta wave but the hospitalisations were half and deaths even less than one-fifth of the previous peak.
It’s also pertinent to note that only 26 per cent of South Africa’s population is fully vaccinated. In India, 41 per cent of the population has received both the doses and 61 per cent have been administered with at least one dose.
Now, let’s look at the UK numbers, where Omicron is causing record breaking Covid-19 positive cases.
The positives are out of the roof. It’s to be noted that an overwhelming majority of population and those with boosters in London and UK is far greater than India.
However, when we look at hospitalisations and deaths, we get some hope. Patients are nowhere close, not even 30 per cent yet (though it may go up to 50 per cent if we go by South Africa’s numbers but remember, the fully vaccinated population is much more in London).
Deaths are not even one-tenth of the previous peak.
What does this tells us? If we were to have a UK-level wave in India, we could even see two million cases per day and crazy high positivity rates. But does tracking help us in any way?
It’s pointless to look at those indicators. Rather, the government needs to have a hospitalisation counter where it internally tracks the number of beds available and how those cases are progressing — whether mild or needing critical care.
It‘s time to internalise that everyone will eventually get Omicron. The masks, social distancing, testing, vaccines, partial lockdowns etc will help, but not much in stopping the spread.
Quarantining Omicron positives, even asymptomatic cases, in the best hospitals of the country is madness.
We need to shift gears and change our strategy.
Covid-19 now needs to be tackled from the point of view of a private health issue rather than public health one.
This means that we need to shift from testing at public centres to home-testing or office-testing so people can isolate themselves and take extra prevention.
We need to put a huge focus on early treatment, preferably at home, using anti-virals or other treatments and issue directives and protocols to doctors across the country.
We should’ve enough hands-on data by now from hospitals in the UK and South African doctors on what’s working and what’s not against this variant.
The vulnerable folks should be given an option of a booster — especially those vaccines that are built on time tested traditional platforms which are safe should be given a preference.
We should definitely ban super spreader events, especially indoors and especially so during winters, but let the country run without arbitrary rules.
One hopes that the governments, for once, will make way for common sense policies and not resort to tried and tested failed strategies.
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