Covid-19 Risk Persists In India, No Country Is ‘Out Of The Woods’ Yet: WHO Official

New Delhi: The risk persists even though the Covid-19 cases are starting to plateau in parts of India, said a World Health Organization (WHO) official, adding the focus must be on reducing transmission and implementing situation-specific measures.

Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region, said the Covid-19 risk remains high and no country is “out of the woods” yet.

“Hence, even though some cities or states may be beginning to see plateauing of cases, the risk persists. We need to continue to remain vigilant. Our focus must be on reducing transmission,” Dr Singh told PTI in an interview while responding to a question that coronavirus cases have started plateauing in India.

“Implementing situation-specific public health and social measures and increasing vaccine coverage – that’s the way forward for all countries in the ongoing pandemic,” she added.

When asked if the Covid pandemic is entering in endemic stages, the WHO official said: “We are still in the midst of the pandemic and the focus should be to curtail the virus spread and save lives.”

“By becoming endemic doesn’t mean that the virus will not be a cause of concern,” she said.

Dr Singh said Omicron, compared to the Delta variant of Covid-19, is able to more rapidly infect the tissues of the upper respiratory tract rather than the lungs, which may also help the spread of this variant.

“There appears to be a lower risk of severe disease and death following Omicron infection as compared to other variants,” Dr Singh said.

“However, due to the very high numbers of cases, many countries have seen a significant increase in the incidence of hospitalization, putting pressure on healthcare systems,” she added.

Noting that the illness severity increases with age and in the presence of underlying medical conditions and among the people who are not vaccinated, the WHO official said the data suggests that Omicron infection may be associated with a lower risk of hospitalisation compared to infection with Delta.

Stressing on the need to rapidly accelerate efforts to vaccinate all at-risk populations in all nations, Dr Singh said: “There is growing evidence on vaccine effectiveness for Omicron, but we still have a lot to learn.”

“So far, we think that vaccines are less effective against Omicron infection and symptomatic disease compared to Delta. Having a booster shot seems to increase protection,” she added.

The WHO official said the vaccines, however, still seem to remain highly effective at protecting people against serious illness, hospitalisation and death.

Dr Singh said that vaccines remain an effective method to reduce the likelihood of severe disease caused by the Omicron variant.

She added the emergence of Omicron means that protective behaviours remain critical such as keeping a safe distance from others, avoiding crowds, wearing a well-fitted mask covering mouth and nose, cleaning hands regularly, keeping indoor spaces well ventilated and covering coughs and sneezes.

The WHO official’s remarks come as the country is presently battling the Covid third wave driven by the Omicron variant.

Earlier on Thursday, the Union Health Ministry said that early indications of Covid cases plateauing have been reported in certain geographies in the country but the trend needs to be observed.

India earlier on January 21 reported a total of 3,47,254 new Covid-19 cases after which the daily infection count has been reducing.

A decline in cases and positivity rate has been observed especially in the states of Delhi, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Odisha and Haryana.

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