“The immunity level in Kashmir, if we see, is strong due to Covid and other flu vaccination and widespread exposure to the previous variants. But those infected previously can be infected…”
By Jahanuma Tahir, Sheikh Mehvish
AFTER one more Covid variant reared its ugly head in the world, alarm bells have started ringing in the Kashmir valley bracing itself for yet another viral phase.
On December 2, a spokesperson of the Directorate of Health Services Kashmir said that they’ve reviewed all the Covid-19 related arrangements and measures are being put in place in view of the Omicron outbreak.
The preparation began after a newfangled variant of coronavirus was detected on November 25 in South Africa, prompting World Health Organization to name it as “a variant of concern”.
Soon cases and concerns related to Omicron were reported in India. On the face of the new variant’s fast spread, some experts believe that Kashmir is likely to witness the “winter of worries”.
However, in an exclusive interview with Kashmir Observer, Professor and Head, Community Medicine and Covid-in-charge at Government Medical College, Srinagar, Dr. Muhammad Salim Khan emphasized the need to follow Covid SOPs to tackle the new outbreak of Omicron Variant.
What do we know so far about this Omicron Variant?
See, viruses have a special ability that is hardly seen in any other microorganisms and that’s it emulates for their survival. The same is the case with coronavirus.
It has many strains but the majority hasn’t caused any problem as of now. Some strains are known as ‘variant of importance’ and severe ones are classified as ‘variant of concern’.
Recently, a new variant was detected in South African countries known as B1.1.257. It’s named by the Greek letter Omicron. It has been classified as a “variant of concern” but there’s no need to panic. Its behaviour is not that different from Delta variant.
Currently, studies are showing a higher rate of transmissibility of Omicron, but it causes mild symptoms. Around 90% are asymptomatic and aren’t detected easily and that’s why it is spreading.
That said, this variant has been there for months but was recently detected. But as of now, we haven’t come across any case in Kashmir.
Can it be detected in RT-PCR tests?
Yes, it can be detected in RT-PCR. These tests are specialized tests and can detect any virus present in our body.
What’re its symptoms? Are these different from other variants of coronavirus?
Symptoms are almost the same as previous variants like fever, cough, tiredness, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, headache, aches, pains, diarrhoea, a rash on the skin, discolouration of fingers or toes. So far no extra or new symptoms are seen.
Will existing vaccines be effective against the Omicron Variant?
As we’ve seen so far, vaccinated people are more resilient to any kind of viruses as compared to non-vaccinated people. Both can be infected but vaccination can protect from getting severely ill.
Can this variant be cured by home isolation or will hospitalization be needed?
Hospitalisation is needed if something severe happens. But as precaution, government has started getting RT-PCR tests of international travellers compulsory at the airport. If the test report comes out positive, the passenger shall be kept under home quarantine for the first week and would again be tested on the 8th day of home quarantine or whenever the traveller develops symptoms of infection during quarantine.
But like I said, nothing severe or new is seen in the behaviour of the new mutant as of now. It’s pretty much like other variants.
What’re the measures taken by hospitals if Omicron cases are detected in Kashmir? And how ready are our health centers in case of an upsurge?
All hospitals are ready with all measures related to oxygen supplies and availability of medicines, besides other arrangements that have already been put in place in case of any calamity.
Oxygen capacity in hospitals was 1000 litres per minute. We’ve already increased that in the second phase. Currently, SMHS hospital has a capacity of 4000 to 5000 litres per minute, and the same is the case with other hospitals.
So far, we’ve diagnosed that no medicines work against this virus — only timely use of oxygen and steroids have helped and these are available in our hospitals. The main treatment is oxygen and no oxygen scarcity will happen this time.
Which age group is more likely to be infected?
Since research is still ongoing into Omicron’s transmissibility, we haven’t detected which age group is likely to be vulnerable. It infects almost every age group.
If a person had Covid-19 previously, can he still be infected with this variant?
The immunity level in Kashmir, if we see, is strong due to Covid and other flu vaccination and widespread exposure to the previous variants. Those infected previously can be infected but not severe enough to require hospitalization.
What everyone needs to do right now is to follow Covid SOPs that are already put in place. All the protocols remain the same. Social distancing needs to be followed to stop the spread. We cannot let our guards down by not wearing a mask. Vaccines help us from within the body but masks provide external protection. And both are very important.
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