Saturday, 13 April, 2024

Containing Omicron Threat

Against the backdrop of surging COVID-19 cases in the country, which saw a notable increase by 1,000 cases between Tuesday and Monday, for instance, and rapid spread of the omicron variant, the Kathmandu Valley has gone into smart lockdown since last midnight to stem the spread of the virus. The measure went into effect a day after schools across the country were ordered to close for fifteen days because of the same reason. Under this fresh measure, banks, financial institutions and public vehicles, however, will be allowed to operate as usual. But again, any activity that leads to crowding, especially in public places, is banned. Needless to say, controlling crowds is not only integral to the measure, but also indispensable to stop the spread of the viral disease.

At a time when the neighbouring India has been witnessing a massive surge is infections from omicron, this is a much-needed step. That’s because what happens there will have a repercussion here, meaning once India sees a spike in the cases, the same is seen later in Nepal, too. And that’s exactly what had happened in the first and second waves of the pandemic as well. We have got a lesson to learn from that and be well prepared this time to tackle the impending threat, and the newly enacted measure is a big step in the right direction.

The good news is that the government, since some time ago, has put measures in place to tighten the unhindered movement of the people across the Nepal-India border points. This can well go a long way in preventing the virus from spreading at community level. The omicron variant of the virus is milder than its earlier variants, yet far more transmissible, according to public health experts and the scientists researching the virus. There are less hospitalisations and fatalities. That doesn’t mean that the variant won’t overwhelm hospitals if cases spiral out of control. And that is what makes the situation dangerous. If the variant won’t kill people, it will create conditions for them to get killed, warns the World Health Organisation (WHO). The reason is that, once infected, people will seek medications or hospitalisation, which in turn will strain the health facilities and overload the healthcare providers, eventually depriving people of health services they need and potentially leaving them at risk of health complications.

Omicron’s very high contagiousness is what makes it riskier. While previous infection provides protection against severe diseases, that does little to protect from omicron, say the scientists. Several studies have shown that full vaccination, supplemented with a booster dose, provides robust protection against the infection with the variant. But without a booster, even two doses of the vaccine may not ensure full protection. So, the message sent by it is loud and clear, that omicron must be taken seriously, not lightly. Since the threat posed by this variant is substantial and imminent, underestimating it will be a mistake, putting one in peril. Public health experts cannot say how long we will be reeling from its onslaught. They, however, can say for sure that if more people get vaccinated and follow health safety measures like wearing face-masks, maintaining social distancing, sanitising frequently, among others, it can prove effective in bringing the virus under control.