Omicron Variant and Our Concern

Covid-19 pandemic across the globe has taken a new turn on the discovery of a new variant, named Omicron. While there are many other variants of Covid-19, both active and inactive, the Omicron variant has taken the world media by storm. Let us find out in this article what exactly are the concerns in most people’s minds regarding this Omicron strain.

It is known that viruses not only transmit but also change their mutations in each transmission. Usually, these changes are too minute to be detected. However, large variations do occur, and in some cases may lead to a stronger virus with higher transmissibility, greater resistance to vaccines, or even more deadly. Covid-19 coronavirus also underwent several changes since its first detection in Wuhan. At first, the variants were popularly nicknamed from the country of origin. As they caused some kind of racism against a particular country or a particular race, the nomenclature shifted to Greek letters, alpha, beta, gamma, and delta.

WHO classified these variants into two categories – Variants of Interest and Variants of Concern. Variants of Interest are those variants that may in the future cause community transmissions or has the potential to become out of control. Variants of concern are those which have greater transmissibility, can cause severe symptoms, are more fatal, or develop resistance to vaccination. To date, only five of these variants – alpha, beta, gamma, delta and the newly added Omicron have been recognised as Variants of Concern. Variants of Interest at present are only two variations, lambda and mu.

Transmissibility of Omicron is considered much greater than delta, one of the most fatal and widely circulated variants of Covid-19 discovered to date. However, it is yet to be proved as data remains insufficient on the spread of this virus. Neither it has been proved that it is more harmful as it is still under research level. However, preliminary research suggests that it may be much less dangerous than the delta variant despite having greater transmissibility. Omicron has also not gone out of control in most countries, including Botswana and South Africa, the countries of origin of this variant.

South Africa did well to report globally that a new variant of Covid-19 has been detected within its borders. South Africa also did well to make sure awareness and research studies can spread to other nations to initiate effective measures to contain this strain. However, most countries around the world, except for African and some South American ones, are looking at South Africa with suspicion. Most countries have responded with travel bans to South Africa and other African countries, shutting down flights, ships, and different modes of transportation and communication.

This may set an example to other countries to remain silent on new variations, only to save their economy. Also, many countries around the world have significant Covid-19 caseload and high fatality rates from delta variants, who do not have even mandatory Covid-19 protocols such as mandatorily wearing a mask in public. Hence, it is not the right time to panic and stand against South Africa, but work all together to end the pandemic once and for all.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Maintaining Covid-19 Protocols this Diwali

Diwali, the festival of lights, is the biggest festival of Hinduism. Apart from the rituals, and worshipping Ma Laxmi or Ma Kali, Diwali is the time when people burn firecrackers, light their homes, and draw rangolis. Diwali also sees a large migration of the working class of big cities to their birth village or city. As the third wave of Covid-19 looms large after Dussehra, such massive migration may spread Covid-19 even in remote corners of the country according to some experts.

The return of workers, students, and other professionals is impossible to stop, given people seem to have forgotten all about the horrific first and second waves of Covid-19. However, what can be stopped is the celebration in a large gathering. People are hoping to make the most of it this year, as was evident in Durga Puja in West Bengal. The Covid-19 cases in Kolkata and its neighbourhood shot up past 500 from below 200 before the Puja. And studies have revealed a new trend that most of the cases of virus contraction were in individuals receiving double doses of the Covid-19 vaccine. Not only the Puja pandals, shopping centres and restaurants are major spreaders, apart from late-night parties that became active after the State Government lifted the night curfew during the festival. Night clubs and parties have accounted for most of the second wave cases and also is the biggest threat to start off the third wave.

So, should we not celebrate Diwali this year? Experts warn only on gathering and not on the celebration. Every year, Diwali is celebrated at every home with mostly family members. So, the rituals themselves can be done in isolation at home. Marketing is a major concern, and it is best to opt for local markets and shops in the neighbourhood, or online shopping, rather than gather at a shopping mall. Markets have off-late became extremely crowded in this festive season, where hardly anyone is following Covid-19 protocols. The one who is sick or is showing Covid-19 symptoms should take a rest in isolation as this will not only improve the health but also help in curbing any contracted virus. Pandal hopping, especially in parts of West Bengal, should be avoided with no entry allowed inside Puja pandals. Wearing a mask properly when going outside and washing hands frequently are some known Covid-19 protocols people have forgotten nowadays.

Staying at home and following the festival rituals is probably the best option for this Diwali than a late night party that may turn into a super-spreader. Despite taking double vaccine shots, anyone is at risk of contracting the virus, as is evident in recent studies in Covid-19 cases across West Bengal. So, this Diwali, let’s follow the festival’s rituals in their true sense, and maintain the most essential protocol of Covid-19, staying at home and thus avoiding a possible third wave in the future.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Third Wave of Covid-19 – Inevitable or not?

India has just battled out its worst pandemic situation ever. The first two waves did significant damage all over the world, including India. We have lost so many fellow Indians. Our economy is getting weaker and weaker. Unemployment is on the rise. However, the main question is, even after two massive outbreaks of Covid-19 are we aware of the control measures of this virus yet.

After a disastrous second wave, nobody wants another wave of Covid-19 anytime in the country. However, health officials, including the Prime Minister have warned against a possible third wave in the near future. The positive news was that vaccination is going on in full swing, and it will not be long before all citizens of India are vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus. However, the third wave is predicted to reach India well before that. Scientists say that even 70% vaccination can reduce the severity of a third wave to a great extent.

Increasing the duration of the gap between two doses of Covishield is also another factor of slow vaccination rates in India. Covishield was given at an interval of 12 to 16 weeks between two doses as against the previous 8-week gap. Covishield production and distribution have also slowed down considerably as the second wave is retreating from the country. A positive note here is that some single-dose vaccines like Johnson and Johnson, or Sputnik Light are found to be quite effective against Covid-19. Launching single-dose vaccines will increase the vaccination rate to a great extent.

The main question is, when will the third wave come. Scientists differ in their opinions, but most of them suggest that some time is required after the waning of the second wave after which they will get a clear idea. Some scientists say that the third wave has already arrived in the country in July. A few others think the second wave is yet to abate fully from the country and the third wave may arrive 6-8 weeks after the second wave abates. Many predictions point out that if the Government does not tighten its grip on people movement and tourism, as it was before the second wave, the third wave is likely to arrive sooner than expected, and may even take a violent turn. A number of researchers also say that the third wave may arrive by mid-August. However, most studies agree that the severity of the third wave is at our hands, how well we can shield ourselves from infected persons.

Despite all precautions, a section of scientists says that a third wave is inevitable and it may hit India sooner than expected. As nationwide lockdown eases a bit in July, a huge crowd has flocked to the hill stations and beaches. Such a massive crowd of non-local people in tourist places may turn into a Kumbha Mela like super-spreader. Tourist destinations like Lakshadweep and Kerala are seeing an increasing trend in the Covid-19 case count. Most tourist destinations have asked for a negative Covid-19 report or vaccination. Maintaining Covid-19 protocols as well as social distancing is the key to stay safe from getting infected by the deadly virus.

Written by – Himadri Paul