As Omicron spreads in India, experts say next two weeks are crucialIndia is reporting a rise in infection by the new variant, against which most vaccines are said to be ineffective.
As cases of the Omicron infection of Covid-19 have been reported in many states of India, public health experts in Nepal say the next two weeks will be crucial for determining how the new variant impacts Nepal.
They say the rise in new cases of the Omicron variant in India is concerning as thousands of people cross over to each other's territories every day.
“What is alarming is it has been proved that this new variant of the virus spreads much faster than the Delta variant,” Dr Prabhat Adhikari, an infectious disease expert, told the Post. “The scene will be clear in the next two weeks, which is crucial for us.”
The second wave of the pandemic hit India in March. And it took around a month for the cases to start rising in Nepal and they peaked in April-May.
“It will not take one month for the new variant to spread here if there is an outbreak in India, as the doubling time of the virus is only two to three days. Case doubling time for the Delta variant of the virus was six days,” said Adhikari.
The World Health Organisation said on Saturday that the Omicron coronavirus variant has been reported in 89 countries and the number of cases is doubling in 1.5 to 3 days in areas with community transmission.
“Omicron is spreading rapidly in countries with high levels of population immunity, but it is unclear if this is due to the virus' ability to evade immunity, its inherent increased transmissibility or a combination of both,” said the UN health agency.
India has been reporting a steady rise in Omicron cases with the overall caseload surging to 166. A total of 11 states and union territories have registered more than 160 Omicron cases in the past 18 days.
Surge in cases in India is a cause for concern in Nepal as the two countries share a long porous border.
The new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 was first detected in South Africa in early November. The World Health Organisation designated Omicron as “a variant of concern” on November 26.
On Monday, six cases of Omicron were recorded in India, where thousands of Nepalis regularly travel for work. At least 28 cases of Omicron have been recorded in the Indian capital Delhi, according to Indian media reports.
There are two direct flights between India and Nepal and as of Monday evening no decision has been taken to suspend the flights.
“As of Monday evening we have not received any instruction on whether additional measures need to be taken for arrivals from India,” an official deployed at the health desk set up at the Tribhuvan International Airport, told the Post. “Earlier we were instructed to place people returning from 67 countries in mandatory quarantine but the decision was later canceled.”
The official said that currently people returning from Omicron-hit countries directly reach home and they have been moving around the country freely.
Moreover, thousands of people from Nepal and India travel to each other’s countries without restrictions using hundreds of border points.
Experts say that the authorities’ inability to control people’s movement across the porous border was one of the reasons why Nepal was hit by the second Covid wave, which killed at least 6,000 people.
“We still have time for making preparations,” Dr Bhagwan Koirala, chairman of Nepal Medical Council, the national regulatory body of medical doctors, told the Post. “Health authorities should speed up the vaccination pace and we all should go back to the basics, which is the only way to slow down the possible new wave.”
Doctors serving at the hospitals designated for Covid-19 treatment say they have not noticed significant change in new cases as of Sunday.
“There hasn’t been a significant rise in the number of patients at our hospital,” Dr Umesh Bogati, Covid-19 focal person at Bir Hospital, told the Post. “But the upcoming week will be crucial for us.”
The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention said that the Omicron variant likely will spread more easily than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus.
According to a report in the New York Times, the Omicron variant has surged around the world over the past few weeks, faster than any previously known form of the coronavirus.
“While there is a lot that scientists have yet to understand about Omicron, what they have already known makes it clear that the variant could cause a huge number of new cases in the weeks to follow and that it could push some hospital systems to the breaking point,” the paper reported.
The paper reported on Sunday that most of the world’s vaccines likely won’t prevent infection from Omicron.
Experts in Nepal said that even if much is not known yet about the new variant of the virus, and the effectiveness of the available vaccine against the new variant, vaccination pace should be sped up.
“Even if existing vaccines do not prevent the new infection, they prevent severe infection,” said Koirala, chairman of the Nepal Medical Council. “Authorities should focus on immunising the maximum number of people at the earliest.”
As of Monday, 9,646,720 people (31.8 percent of total estimated population) have been fully immunised.
Nepal needs to vaccinate around 78 percent of its over 30 million estimated population, or around 25 million people. Since 4-5 million Nepalis are said to be living abroad, the number of people who need to be vaccinated is estimated to be around 20 million.
The country so far has received 34,267,477 doses of Covid-19 vaccines—Vero Cell, AstraZeneca, Janssen, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
Public health experts say that even if authorities concerned cannot prevent the possible new wave of Covid, they should try to slow down infections.
“We got opportunities for preparation in the past and also now,” Dr Sarad Onta, a public health expert, told the Post. “We should not miss this golden opportunity. As we do not know many things about the new variant, we should enforce public health measures strictly.”