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The WHO or the Wealth Health Organization has “warned” that the “tsunami” of cases fueled by the Omicron variant can “collapse” health systems worldwide, already on the “brink” as the caseload increases in an exponential manner. While we can dismiss this warning as yet another instance of fear mongering, the data pertaining to the “surge” in cases in India and the world indicates that the WHO is being prescient in its assessment. For instance, a perusal of the active cases in Maharashtra, Delhi, and Karnataka over this New Year long weekend shows a “doubling rate” of two days meaning that new infections are doubling every two days, leading to the conclusion that the Third Wave is arriving.
Moreover, the R value, another indication of the virality wherein it points to how many others are being infected by the patient such as 1 meaning spread to one other and 2 meaning spread to two others across the country shows that many states have breached the R value of more than 1, and in some cases, have also touched 2. In addition, both Delhi and Maharashtra’s caseload is increasing exponentially and worryingly close to the “peaks” scaled in March and April 2021, during the height of the brutal Second Wave. This is the reason why I think the Third Wave is already upon us and unless, we implement the learning’s from the earlier waves, we are indeed in for a nasty surprise.
Having said that, the WHO admits that the Omicron variant is “milder” and can lead to lesser hospitalizations. However, the danger sign here is that when the total volume of cases go up in an “unmanageable” manner, then no matter whether it is mild or strong, the relative numbers of patients needing hospitalizations would go up, thereby “overwhelming” the already stressed healthcare infrastructure in the country. As I have written earlier, the pandemic has “exposed” India’s fault lines and hence, with this present surge, we cannot be too sure that we are on top of the situation or that we are prepared for the Third Wave. Of course, this does not mean that we give up as we can still limit the damage and contain the outbreak with better coordination among the different governmental agencies tasked with the pandemic response.
On the other hand, we as responsible citizens should also cooperate with the government and with each other if we are to survive the Third Wave. As distressing images of crowds thronging public places and the raucous New Year celebrations, restrictions notwithstanding, show, there is a need for us to be cautious and circumspect as well. In a way, we are bringing the Third Wave upon us, risking lives and causing chaos with our Covid “inappropriate” behavior. Even the governmental stakeholders too look helpless as far as imposing stricter restrictions are concerned, as the Lives vs. Livelihoods debate emerges and industry and commercial groups lobby for “easing” tough rules, worried as they are by the loss of income, on top of the “hit” that their businesses have taken over the last couple of years.
So, where is this leading us to? For one, vaccinations are no “protection” against the Omicron variant and more importantly, there are no definite clues about how it would impact the country once the caseload reaches the numbers seen during the peak of the earlier waves. Second, we are still in the dark about the mortality rates (calculated as a percentage of the total infections), making us clueless about the “triaging” of cases and determining whether patients need hospitalizations. Third, there is no clear “prognosis” about the course of the infection and moreover, no proven treatment, which anyway was the case with the entire Novel Coronavirus. In effect, the Third Wave and our response to it is like the proverbial “blind men and the elephant” parable, meaning that we are “groping” about on ways to respond.
In this scenario, our best bet would be to accelerate the vaccination drives (so as to at least have some antibodies that can limit the intensity of the infection), impose drastic restrictions and most importantly, enforce them in a scientific manner. As things stand now, measures such as Night Curfew are not rooted in scientific reasons and maybe, it is time to listen more to public health experts. In addition, the state should not abdicate its responsibility and leave the citizenry to fend for themselves, which was the case during the Second Wave. As the Third Wave arrives, the government, the media, and the societal stakeholders must come together for the cause of public good and not indulge in communal and polarizing rhetoric, which is “heartless” at times like these. To conclude, we should hopefully cross this bridge and emerge stronger and healthier on the other side. Happy New Year!!