Omicron threat: It’s real and it’s looming

Amid rising numbers of new cases for over a week, several Indian states have already announced curbs that include curfew in Kolkata.

Moudud Ahmmed Sujan

Moudud Ahmmed Sujan

The Daily Star


January 5, 2022

With new cases of Covid-19 rising steadily for four days, the country faces the bleak prospect of another wave of the coronavirus that might put the health care system under serious strain again, experts fear.

Health Minister Zahid Maleque yesterday said a new set of restrictions will be implemented in seven days instead of the previously planned 15.

Amid rising numbers of new cases for over a week, several Indian states have already announced curbs that include curfew in Kolkata.

“We are witnessing a fresh wave and it is most likely due to Omicron. The situation in India suggests we will see a major spike in the next couple of weeks,” infectious disease specialist Prof Ridwanur Rahman told The Daily Star yesterday.

In mid-2020, the Delta variant of coronavirus put significant strain on Bangladeshi health facilities. The picture was similar in Indian hospitals in the preceding months.

First detected on December 9 in Bangladesh, a total of 10 Omicron infected patients have been identified through genome sequence, which is a time-consuming and expensive procedure that can only be done in the capital.

“Due to inadequate testing and genome sequencing capacity against a large population, the reality will be worse than what the data may indicate,” Prof Ridwanur said.

Covid-19 cases in India yesterday increased by 10.75 percent compared to the previous day.

“Due to the large population density in our country, low rate of vaccination and rampant violation of health protocols, Omicron may put hospitals at capacity just as the Delta did.”

According to the Directorate General of Health Services, only 31 percent of the population has received two shots of a Covid vaccine. Besides, most people don’t wear masks and social distancing is a far cry.

Prof Abul Bashar Mohammad Khurshid Alam, director general of the DGHS, on Monday said the Omicron variant may cause a major spike in Covid-19 cases in March and April.

Officials yesterday reported 775 new cases, which is one and a half times higher than the number a week ago.

The DGHS identified Dhaka and Natore as the high-risk areas where the positivity rate was over five percent.

Besides, the number of patients in hospitals across the country has increased by almost 13 percent in the week preceding yesterday.

Health and Family Welfare Minister Zahid Maleque yesterday said the government may consider enforcing a lockdown and shops will be ordered to close at 8:00pm in a week.

Medical tests and screening of passengers, who are arriving from Omicron-infected countries, at gateways — land, air, and waterways will be strengthened and all educational institutions (madrasa, pre-primary, primary, secondary, higher secondary and universities) and coaching centres must maintain health rules.

The minister said, “If infection rate surges and the situation goes out of control, then we have a plan to enforce a lockdown.”

Maleque said the restrictions will include reducing the number of public events, cutting down the number of passengers in public transport, ordering restaurants not to sell foods to unvaccinated people and penalising people for not wearing masks outdoors.

Meanwhile, the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research completed genome sequences of a total of 18 samples collected between December 1 and 13 and all of those of the Delta variant.

“We regularly collect samples for genome sequence. The latest data indicated the Delta variant was dominant as of early December. But the situation may soon change,” Prof Tahmina Shirin, director of the IEDCR told The Daily Star yesterday.


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