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

RT-PCR Test of Covid-19

Of all the Covid-19 tests that came to light in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic situation globally, the RT-PCR Test stood out as the ultimate Covid-19 test. Its full-form is reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction. RT-PCR Test, when invented, used to cost as much as Rs. 5000 and was unaffordable by common people. However, as production grew, following advancement in technology, the price of RT-PCR Test has come down to as low as Rs. 300. In this article, let us see how this test works.

The sample is collected using a nose swab from your throat and nose. A swab is a thin, flexible stick that is inserted in your nostrils and throat to collect the virus. Covid-19 virus, if present, will get accumulated in the stick. The sample then reaches the laboratory, where the virus is extracted. The extraction process isolated genetic material from the sample, including genetic material of any viruses that may be present. The third step is the PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, in which millions of copies of the virus are produced for detection. Without the PCR, the number of viruses in the sample is too small to be detected. If Covid-19 is present, then the chemicals used in the process produce fluorescent light. It is the signal to suggest that the sample contains the Covid-19 virus.

A positive test result means that it is very likely you have Covid-19. If you test positive, don’t panic. Contact your doctor or healthcare provider, and follow the quarantine and self-isolation rules. Most people will recover following mild or no symptoms. A negative test result means you are unlikely to be affected by Covid-19 at the time of the test. However, you still have to follow all precautions given by the Government in your state, as you are still vulnerable to Covid-19 at the time of test or afterwards. Due to high sensitivity, you may test Covid-19 positive if you had been infected by Covid-19 a few weeks back and have recovered from it since then.

RT-PCR Test has numerous advantages:

  1. It delivers a report within 24 hours.
  2. It is the most reliable and accurate Covid-19 test, which can detect even residual virus, such as remnants of a virus from a near-past infection.
  3. Collection of sample is also hassle-free, and it could be processed in railway stations, entry and exit checkpoints, office buildings, that is it does not consume a large space and do not require extremely skilled labour.

Advantages of the RT-PCR Test made us possible to test for Covid-19 at tourist destinations at a minimal cost and also tour hassle-free in most tourist destinations in the country.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Tokyo 2020 Olympics is Underway

It is always said that it is better late than never. The Olympics was originally scheduled to be held initially in the summer of 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. However, the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic postponed the mega event that occurs every 4 years. However, extensive research on Covid-19 and the invention of vaccines mean that the games could still be conducted amid strict pandemic protocols. Tokyo has taken the initiative to proceed with the Olympic games in July 2021.

As of now, only two countries have pulled out of the Tokyo Olympics – North Korea and Guinea. Some Czech, US, and British athletes have also pulled themselves out of the Olympics as they are infected with Covid-19. Covid-19 also showed its presence in the games village, where several athletes were found to be Covid-19 positive. Games related Covid-19 cases have till date shot off to 155, of which 20 are residing in the village. Some well-known athletes have also been affected by the deadly virus, including Czech beach volleyball player Ondrej Perusic, Dutch tennis player Jean-Julien Rojer, U.S. tennis player Coco Gauff, British shooter Amber Hill, and Russian swimmer Ilya Borodin.

Russian athletes will be participating in the Tokyo Olympics as ROC, or Russian Olympic Community. Russians are not allowed to use their flag or national anthem in the event as the World Anti-Doping Association, or WADA, has banned Russia from participating in Olympics for 4 years, which has now been cut down to 2 years. As a result, 335 Russian athletes, who have cleared themselves of being unaware of doping scandals, will now participate under the name ROC.

The tournament kicked off well for India, with Mirabai Chanu from Manipur, clinching the silver medal in women’s weightlifting in the 49kg category. She became the second person to get an Olympic medal in weightlifting after Karnam Malleshwari’s bronze medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Mirabai lifted a total of 202kg to secure the second spot after China’s Hou Zhizhi, who lifted 210kg in total, creating Olympic record. The veteran badmintonist and Rio Olympic’s silver medallist, PV Sindhu, the boxing legend and London Olympic’s bronze medallist, Mary Kom, and the Indian men’s hockey team have started well in their Olympics campaign.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Partial Lockdown vs Complete Lockdown Conditions

As the second wave of Covid-19 wrecks havoc in many states, there is again the need for a lockdown phase 2. This time first partial lockdown was imposed, which was expected to slow down the spread of the virus. But the reality was just the opposite. Hence complete lockdown was imposed in most states. The importance of lockdown during Covid-19 times was felt as the second wave has started to decrease from a peak value. So why was complete lockdown not imposed as soon as the number of cases rose? Let us now compare between partial and complete lockdown and understand which solution is more practical. Note that lockdown itself is not enough to save you. Instead, everyone has to strictly follow all Covid-19 guidelines and maintain good health and hygiene.

In lockdown phase 1, when the whole country underwent a strict and complete lockdown, much middle class lost their means of livelihood, the people suffered a lot, and the migrant workers and students got stuck in unknown places. Thus the Government does not want to impose such stringent measures around the country that may impact most citizens. This time around, the states were asked to impose partial or complete lockdown to curb the spread of the virus. So many states imposed a partial lockdown when the number of cases started rising. However, it didn’t work out at all due to the negligence of the citizens. Let us now see why partial lockdown failed in most regions.

Partial lockdown hardly reached anybody’s ears. It has become a norm that as long as the police do not arrest anybody, it is safe to disobey Government rules and regulations in lockdown. The Governments are to be blamed as well. The Kumbha Mela at Haridwar turned out to be the biggest super spreader of Covid-19 in the world. People from all over the country gathered at Haridwar to take a bath in the Holy Ganga during Kumbha Mela. Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand happened to be the primary source of the Mumbai strain of the Sars-Cov-2 virus after Mumbai. Also to be blamed are the election rallies in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Kerala and Assam that accounted for a significant outbreak of the virus in these states. The markets are to be blamed as well. There was a sudden urge of everybody to go out shopping, and in February and March, people behaved as if there was never any pandemic situation here. The Chaitra sale in Kolkata looked as if pre-pandemic times had returned. Schools reopened only to be shut down immediately due to teachers and students getting affected.

Amidst all these, Delhi, Mumbai and Lucknow were the worst affected cities that faced a severe oxygen crisis. The travellers were by far responsible for spreading the virus to some metropolitan cities and rural countryside. Today, a chunk of the country’s population are migrant workers, and a significant number of middle-class families are tourism-lovers. The Bengal strain, an escape immunity variant of Sars-Cov-2, had actually spread in January 2021, when the tourism-lovers visited tourist places and workers migrated to other states for work when lockdown restrictions were lifted.

However, complete lockdown instead of partial lockdown worked in favour of curbing the spread of coronavirus. It is evident from the figures that peak was achieved in many states in mid-May, and the number of cases has declined since. Delhi, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Telangana, Tamil Nadu have battled the coronavirus and are now looking forward to easing lockdown restrictions. However, this time the Government is not taking it lightly, as the severity of the second wave forced the Government and the citizens to be aware of an even more destructive third wave shortly. Also, vaccination drive has hoped to limit the damage caused by Sars-Cov-19 in the body.

With Bengal, Odisha, Assam and some other states yet to reach their peak caseload, it is expected that despite easing situations in other parts, these states still have to maintain their lockdown restrictions to minimize further damage by Covid-19. One of the best practical moves is creating awareness and enforcing a few conditions for a few more weeks so that there is not much congestion of people in a particular area. Limitation of market hours, refrain from rallies, festivals, and gatherings, restriction of people’s movement through public transport are good options. The Home-delivery system should be increased and implemented in as many fields as possible. Virtual conferences, online classes, and work from home should be a part of the new normal until the virus is eliminated from the country. If China can do it, New Zealand can do it, Australia and some other countries can do it, then we Indians can do it as well.

Written by – Himadri Paul