(New Delhi) Haunted by last spring’s dreadful wave of COVID-19, authorities in several megacities across India are ready to tackle another wave, linked to the highly contagious Omicron variant, with new restrictive measures to try prevent its spread from spiraling out of control.
Posted on January 7
At the height of the pandemic, last May, India recorded more than 400,000 new infections and some 4,000 deaths per day. No one in the country can forget the traumatic scenes experienced in hospitals overwhelmed with dying patients, lacking in oxygen, crematoriums and cemeteries struggling to respond to the influx of remains.
But the Omicron variant raises fears that history will repeat itself given the exponential spread of the virus in recent days. The daily number of new contaminations has more than tripled in three days, climbing to more than 110,000 cases.
“These figures are indeed worrying,” Gautam Menon, a professor at Ashoka University in India, who has worked on modeling the spread of the virus, told AFP. The situation, he added, “could potentially strain health systems to levels comparable to or worse” than last spring.
Such a prospect prompted the state of Delhi to impose a night curfew and weekend movement restrictions this week from Friday evening, from which only personnel in essential activities are exempt.
Similarly, India’s tech city, Bangalore, instituted a curfew this weekend. As for Bombay, the economic capital of the country has decided on a night curfew.
Doctors and nurses interviewed by AFP, however, remain optimistic, observing fewer serious cases among patients admitted to hospital, who are now benefiting from their experience of COVID-19.
“Last year, we didn’t know exactly what we were dealing with. I think now mentally it’s a bit better,” said a nurse at a Delhi hospital, who requested anonymity, not being authorized to speak publicly.
According to Suresh Kumar, director of the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash hospital in New Delhi, the number of patients treated in his establishment has quadrupled, from a handful at the start of the week to twenty in two days. This increase is “nothing to cause panic” for the moment, he assured.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration has not yet indicated that it is considering a strict national lockdown as was the case last year.
Local officials are watching with concern the exponential increase in the number of cases. The big lockdown last year dealt a severe blow to the Indian economy and the population fears the financial impact of new restrictions.
“I will only work 15 days this month,” said Tumul Srivastava, a resident of Delhi, where the office occupancy rate was set at 50% by order of the authorities, “my salary may be cut. All of this just adds to my anxiety.”
India started vaccinating teenagers on Monday and the booster campaign for people over 60 will begin next week.
Health workers have administered nearly 1.5 billion doses of the vaccine, nearly two-thirds of the 1.3 billion population have already received two doses, according to government data.
This vaccination campaign could help mitigate the impact of this new viral onslaught.
“Although we don’t have data yet, this could confer strong hybrid immunity against severe forms” of the disease, Bhramar Mukherjee, epidemiologist at the University of Michigan, told AFP.
Preliminary studies have so far suggested that the Omicron variant causes less severe symptoms, despite its rapid spread.
However, according to M.me Mukherjee, the uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus could have serious repercussions in India.
“As seen in the US and the UK, having a large part of the working population sick affects the societal infrastructure and wreaks havoc,” she observed.
“I’m afraid there will come a time in India when the same will happen,” she continued, “it wouldn’t take much for the system to collapse”