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ICMR calls a high-level meeting as covid-19 surges, driven by Omicron

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priyanka.sharma@livemint.com

A high-level meeting has been called in the coming week to chalk out a strategy to stem the recent spike in covid cases and to review the efficacy of current surveillance measures.

The meeting will be chaired by Dr VK Paul, member (health), Niti Aayog.

Last week, scientists at the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) reviewed the genomic surveillance data which showed the surge is being driven by Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5. It also showed the presence of BA.2 and BA.2.38 in the country.

In a worrying trend, India has been reporting around 13,000 new cases every day with Maharashtra (22,828 active cases), Kerala (21,275), Delhi (5,119), Karnataka (4,825), Tamil Nadu (3,073), Haryana (2,945) and Uttar Pradesh (2,323) leading the tally.

Dr Samiran Panda, Additional Director General at the Indian Council of Medical Research, said, “Within 2-3 days, ICMR’s national Task Force on Covid-19 will meet to deliberate on the covid surge in the country — how things are going in terms of surveillance strategy and future trends etc.”

Explaining the reasons behind recent surge, Dr Raman Gangakhedkar, epidemiologists and national chair, ICMR said, “People think that Omicron is mild. But at the same time it has a very sharp surge and sharp decline. When restrictions were removed, people stopped using masks and they came into contact with each other putting the most vulnerable population at risk. So, the virus started to spread.

“There are two things we have to look for. First, is Omicron likely to present a challenge to the health system? This, we can evaluate by the number of hospitalizations and deaths that could happen. Second, by the number of new infections that are happening, is there any new variant? As of now there is no new variant and no surge hospitalization due to Omicron. So, at this point in time, taking both the vaccination doses and booster doses for the most vulnerable and masking are very important.”

“There is a surge of covid cases in different parts of the country. This is mainly due to Omicron’s subvariants like BA.4 and BA.5 and its sub-lineages. However, cases are not severe and there is no increased hospitalization. Most patients who have mild disease are being managed on OPD basis or at home. However some high-risk patient can still get severe disease. We still need to keep a close watch to track changes in virus behaviour or infectivity. One should complete their vaccination doses as it prevents severe illness and covid appropriate behaviour is must,” Dr. Sushrut Ganpule, pulmonologist at Jupiter Hospital, Pune, said.

More than 1.96 billion vaccine doses have been administered across the country so far.

India registered 12,900 fresh covid cases in the last 24 hours, bringing the total active caseload to 72,474, the health ministry said on Sunday. The total covid-19 cases have reached 43.2 million.

The death toll climbed to 524,855 with 15 new fatalities.

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