Looming Omicron Threat 

EVER since the advent of Omicron, the virus strain has triggered a worldwide alarm. First to be spooked were the global markets which went into a tailspin - albeit, they have since recovered after the reassuring news that the impact of the new variant is still under control. But the preliminary findings about the virus have revealed that it is highly transmissible and could cause havoc if no Standard Operating Procedures are followed.  England is the first country that has acknowledged the enormity of the challenge. In a televised statement, the British prime minister Boris Johnson has warned that his country could be staring at 75,000 deaths by April with 'tidal wave' of Omicron. Britain has launched an ambitious Covid booster shot program to stop the virus' spread.  Britain is also the first country to officially announce death from the virus mutation. According to the British Prime Minister, Omicron has accounted for about 40 percent of the cases in London, and hospital admissions were rising

On the other hand, according to World Health Organization the Omicron coronavirus variant is more transmissible than the Delta strain and reduces vaccine efficacy. It, however,  is said to cause less severe symptoms according to early data. The WHO has said that Omicron is now present in 63 countries and can become dominant in Europe soon. However, all is still not known about the virus. The understanding about it is still evolving.  On a positive note, hospitalizations have so far been less.

India has witnessed so far a lesser number of Omicron cases but there is every possibility that the number can dramatically jump. On Sunday India reported five new Omicron cases, taking the tally of the cases of the new variant in the country to 38. Meanwhile, India logged 7,774 new Covid-19 cases and 306 deaths in the last 24 hours which shows a continuing downward trend.

Acknowledging the gravity of the situation, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a recent meeting directed officials to review plans for easing of international travel restrictions. The PM said travelers must be tested on arrival as per guidelines and called for a particular focus on countries identified “at risk”. He laid emphasis on increasing coverage of the second dose of the vaccine so that adequate immunity is achieved against fresh infections. The PM also urged people to adopt masking and social distancing to prevent the infection from spreading.

Similarly, in a welcome decision, the Jammu and Kashmir administration has decided to make RT-PCR testing mandatory for all foreign travellers to the Union territory at airports to tackle the Omicron threat. The travelers will be allowed to enter J&K only if they test negative. If the report is negative,  the travelers will be sent to home quarantine for seven days and re-tested on the eighth day.  And those who test positive will be sent to institutional isolation centres for 15 days and their samples sent for genome sequencing at ICMR-approved laboratories. These are good measures and should be helpful in containing the spread of the new variant in the country as well as in J&K.

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