Is Omicron-driven Covid-19 wave inevitable in India? What visible signs of its spread says about the extent of its severity

On Friday, Niti Aayog member VK Paul warned that India can see up to 14 lakh daily cases if the current rate of spread in the UK is considered.

On Thursday, Britain reported the highest number of cases since the start of the pandemic

Omicron and its explosive spread in South Africa and the UK has rung alarm bells all across the globe. In a total population of 67 million more than 11 million people have tested positive for the disease and experts are expecting a “staggering” rise in cases in the next few days.

India so far has reported only 113 cases but considering its highly transmissible nature the future can bring an unprecedented number of cases making third wave evident. The latest warning from NITI Aayog has further made the country and state health authorities concerned.

On Friday, Niti Aayog member VK Paul warned that India can see up to 14 lakh daily cases if the current rate of spread in the UK is considered. Dr Paul also added that genome sequencing of every sample is not possible and hence system sampling is being taken place. He also noted that it is an “emerging and unexpected scenario” and the government is keeping a keen eye on the developments.

Can Omicron lead to an anticipated third wave?

On Thursday, Britain reported the highest number of cases since the start of the pandemic, and a rise in 10, 000 cases since the previous record set on Wednesday. South Africa, where the variant was first detected, witnessed 20, 000 new cases in a day, up from 200 I at the start of November. Denmark also reported the second most number of cases so far.

Moreover, concerns over Omicron strain potent enough to evade the immunity offered by two doses of vaccines has made the World Health organisation stress on booster shots even when primary vaccination is yet to cover the entire global population. On the flip side, preliminary analysis suggest the strain might not be as severe as Delta variant and the devastation will not be as mammoth as seen in the Delta-driven Covid wave.

Omicron situation in India

India is in a better position that South Africa in terms of vaccination with 38 per cent people fully vaccinated compared to South Africa’s 26 per cent. Also India’s Covid cases have remained below 10, 000 mark for the longest time without any visible sign of surge.

If hybrid immunity, previous history of infection and high vaccination rate has anything to do with the spread of Omicron that India will witness a milder third wave than thought. However, considering its population, if the variant starts spreading like in South Africa there can be no less than one lakh cases per day by the fifth week of the surge and up to 8 lakh weekly cases in the second month of the surge. According to Manindra Agarwal, an IIT scientist involved in the mathematical projection of trajectory of Covid cases the peak of the Omicron-driven wave is expected in February.

So far there is no visible sign of Omicron’s unprecedented spread in India but considering who the new variant is detected through the laborious genome sequencing, there is always going to be a lag between the reported cases and actual situation. In such a situation it is hard to know how far the new variant has penetrated the Indian population.

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