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Omicron variant

December 11, 2021

The world is staring at another COVID wave, thanks to the new Omicron variant. World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared it a `variant of concern’ that is more transmissible and has a higher risk of reinfection compared to the Delta and Beta strains. This means that there is a higher likelihood of individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 to be re-infected with the Omicron variant. 

Although less dangerous, the virus can consequently affect a large number of people and overwhelm the healthcare set up which is already facing the brunt of the pandemic. Therefore, more surveillance and sticking to Covid appropriate behaviour is required.

The new variant was found in South Africa in the last week of November. Since then it has now spread to around 57 countries. No death has been linked to this variant and patients are recovering without hospitalization, and without requiring oxygen support.

 Even though the variant is probably more efficiently transmitting than Delta, it does not mean the virus is unstoppable. The variant, though less dangerous, could still affect more people, overburden the health system, as it transmits rapidly. Even if vaccines prove less effective against Omicron, as some data indicates, they are still expected to provide significant protection against severe disease. 

In South Africa, seroprevalence is 60 to 80%, while vaccination coverage is 35%. But Omicron has spread rapidly as it poses reinfection threats. It is expected that hospitalizations will increase if more people become infected and that there will be a time lag between an increase in the incidence of cases and an increase in the incidence of deaths.

 There were 212 confirmed Omicron cases in 18 EU countries till December 6. South Africa saw an 82% increase in hospital admission between November 18 and December 4, but it is not known whether Omicron is the reason.

 Amid the Omicron threat, three Jammu residents with foreign travel history have been found positive for Covid-19. Their samples have been sent for genome sequencing. These three persons had recently visited Ireland, Italy, and France. They were found positive on RT-PCR.  

Sensing trouble, the J&K government has come up with updated guidelines to contain the spread of Covid-19 even as a new variant of the infection is pushing countries to reconsider any relaxations that may have been given so far.

Under the new order, the offline board examinations for classes 10 and 12 shall be permitted in a staggered manner keeping in view all the social distancing norms and Covid appropriate behaviour.

Students attending the examination have to get written consent from their parents or legal guardians. Seating arrangement too needs to be made in such a way that every second desk is left vacant to maintain physical distance. As for offline education, classes for 12th shall be permitted with limited in-person teaching not exceeding 50% on a given day for vaccinated students and staff.

As the world comes to terms with the new reality, people in Jammu and Kashmir need to remain cautious and follow SOPs.

It is high time that people wake up to the new public health crisis. Wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, and hand hygiene is key to keeping the virus at bay. We need to cut down on social gatherings.

Shopkeepers too need to be responsive. Only people with masks should be allowed. Particularly grocery and bakery shops are most vulnerable because people frequent these places quite often. It is our collective responsibility to keep the virus at bay. Let us not be Covidiots!

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