(Opinion) Covid 3.0: Is this the last wave with restrictions?

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Around three weeks ago, Afshine Emrani, Medical Director at Los Angeles Heart Specialists, made a bold statement amid the ongoing Omicron threat. He stated that within “8-12 weeks the world will be vaccinated” due to the spread of the Omicron virus. Even as there are nine more weeks left for us to find out whether his claim will turn out to be true or not, his other remarks are worth mentioning as well. Last month, he had termed Omicron a seasonal cold virus while predicting a sharp rise in Covid positive cases. Now, there has been a sharp increase in Covid positive cases while Emrani had further stated that “numbers will drop dramatically” later. However, he had warned against “overreaction and over-reach” by government agencies, saying their actions were causing panic and providing misinformation. Suggesting that the countries should not test for Omicron, and instead, focus their resources on providing “psychological and financial assistance” to people, Emrani has further said: “The biggest threat in my opinion remains in over-reaction and over-reach by government agencies, causing panic, providing misinformation, leading to closures that hurt those most vulnerable among us.”

The statements of Emrani came across as a breath of fresh air amid a spate of gloomy Covid related news that has caused mental health problems all over the world. However, not all agreed with Emrani’s view. World Health Organisation (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned global leaders that Covid pandemic “is nowhere near over”. He even claimed that the Omicron variant is causing hospitalisations and deaths the world over. Tedros has also cautioned against the assumption that the fast-spreading Omicron variant is significantly milder and has eliminated the threat posed by the virus. “Make no mistake, Omicron is causing hospitalisations and deaths, and even the less severe cases are inundating health facilities. Omicron may be less severe, on average, but the narrative that it is a mild disease is misleading, hurts the overall response and costs more lives,” he said. While the WHO has drawn criticism in the past for issuing ‘contradicting’ statements after the outbreak and spread of the Coronavirus in 2019-20, Pfizer boss Albert Bourla too made a positive comment earlier this week. Though he maintained the “most likely scenario” is that coronavirus will be circulating for many years to come, he said the current wave of infections will be the final one that requires restrictions. WHO’s head of emergencies Dr. Michael Ryan also jumped into the growing debate about whether COVID-19 should be considered ‘endemic’ – a label some countries like Spain have called for to better help live with the virus. He said the pandemic will be over this year if huge inequities in vaccinations and medicines are addressed quickly.

At the same time, studies across the world have revealed that the Covid omicron variant is less likely to result in hospitalisation than earlier strains and appears to be milder in comparison. Data from studies in South Africa, England and Scotland indicate that people infected with Omicron are significantly less likely to be admitted to a hospital than if they contract other strains. The study, however, emphasised the importance of getting a booster shot. Though chief medical adviser to the president of the United States, Anthony Fauci said Omicron was not ‘as pathogenic’, he said one needed to watch out for the new variants. “When you talk about whether or not Omicron, because it’s highly transmissible but apparently not as pathogenic, for example, as Delta, I would hope that that’s the case. But that would only be the case if we don’t get another variant that eludes the immune response to the prior variant. For example, we were fortunate that Omicron, although it is highly transmissible, nonetheless is not as pathogenic. But the sheer volume of people who are getting infected overrides that rather less level of pathogenicity. So I really do think that it is an open question as to whether or not Omicron is going to be the live virus vaccination that everyone is hoping for because you have such a great deal of variability with new variants emerging,” he said.

While we always keep an eye on what international Covid experts say, we tend to take the observations of Kashmiri doctors lightly. The opinion of Kashmiri doctors, whether working in the Valley or abroad, should not be taken lightly as they closely monitor the local trends related to Covid. UK based senior pulmonologist of Kashmiri origin Dr. Tasaduk Sultan Khan, in a Facebook comment, also said the Omicron variant was flu-like. “Covid at the moment is rampant & ‘flu like’. Please desist from unnecessary investigations, medications & mental stress. Even if Covid positive, fully vaccinated need not worry as it will be a mild disease for them.” In another post, he stated: “UK data suggests that corona may be receding. Scientists predict that ‘omicron’ may establish a ‘flu like’ relationship by the end of this year. There has already been a 38% drop in Covid cases since last one week. Time for cautious optimism.”

Though the J&K government has already ordered weekend restrictions, it is imperative that the administration does not resort to any knee-jerk reaction amid growing cases. And unlike before, the government decision to keep the Out-Patient Department (OPDs) and In-Patient Department (IPDs) open should be welcome. Covid is not the only disease we are dealing with and people during the previous lockdown faced innumerable problems due to the shutting down of OPDs and IPDs. Director Health Services, Kashmir, Dr Mushtaq Ahmad has stated that the decision about the suspension of these facilities will only be taken once 50 per cent beds are occupied in the hospitals. He said both Covid and non-Covid activities at the hospitals across Kashmir will function normally. The government on the other hand has not announced any lockdown for traders barring the weekend restrictions despite a sharp increase in Covid cases. In the given scenario, we can only pray and hope that the new Covid variants remain ‘mild and flu-like’ so that no more lockdown/ restrictions on weekdays or weekends are announced during the fourth wave, if any.

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