Omicron threatens to overwhelm health systems in SouthAsia

    CountriesBangladeshOmicron threatens to overwhelm health systems in SouthAsia
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    Omicron threatens to overwhelm health systems in SouthAsia

    The Omicron variant is fueling a rapid surge of COVID-19 across South Asia that threatens to overwhelm health systems still reeling from a deadly wave of the Delta variant last year.

    Countries across South Asia from India to Nepal and Bangladesh are reporting alarming increases in COVID-19 infections, with India alone reporting a 2,013 per cent increase in COVID-19 infections in the past month, with cases now nearing 180,000 in a day.

    In India, over 30 million youngsters in the 15 to 18 years age bracket have received the first dose of their COVID-19 vaccination, according to a statement by country’s health minister, Mansukh Mandaviya.

    In the state of Maharashtra and the country’s business capital, Mumbai, the state health minister Rajesh Tope said that the COVID-19 curve is not flattening and that there will be no relaxation in the restriction on movement at least until the middle of February. The Indian cricket control board, BCCI too is said to be considering to move the crowd-gathering IPL cricket matches in 2022 to either South Africa or Sri Lanka amidst rising COVID-19 cases in the country.

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    Nepal has also put restrictions on movements in place. Entry have been banned to the Singha Durbar, the palace of the erstwhile royals which is a gathering place for people, especially on weekends. The country’s interior ministry has revoked the temporary and permanent passes and temporary identity cards of all except the sanitation workers entering Singha Durbar, citing the increasing number of COVID-19 cases.

    Today, Bangladesh imposed an set of restrictions on overall activities and movements in the country for an indefinate period. The use of masks has been made mandatory in shops, shopping malls, bazaars, hotels and restaurants and all public gatherings, the government has said.

    Imams across the country have been asked to make people aware of the health safety guidelines and the use of masks during their Jummah prayers sermons tomorrow.

    The new wave is causing further misery for hundreds of millions of people across South Asia, already living in difficult conditions, exacerbated by COVID-19 over the past two years.

    Last year, health systems were boosted with support from international governments and donors with increased supplies of oxygen equipment across SouthAsia, helping health authorities to be prepared for this latest COVID-19 surge.

    In SouthAsia, a majority of countries have vaccinated less than 50 per cent of their population, putting people at greater risk of developing severe illness and requiring hospitalisation. Over 61 per cent of India’s population have received both doses of COVID-19, Indian Prime Minister said end-December. In the meanwhile, Pakistan has 32.8 per cent and Bangladesh 33 per cent who have received two jabs, according to Oxford University’s Our World in Data.

    WHO and Red Cross react

    Fueled by Omicron, more than 15 million new cases of COVID-19 were reported around the world last week, by far the most cases reported in a single seven day period, the World Health Organization (WHO) informed on Wednesday.

    But despite the huge number of cases, the weekly reported deaths have “remained stable” since October last year at an average of 48,000, said WHO director general Adhanom Ghebreyesus Tedros. The number of patients being hospitalized is also increasing in most countries, but it is not at the level seen in previous waves.

    Abhishek Rimal, the Asia Pacific Emergency Health Coordinator with the International Federation of Red Cross said, “The Omicron variant appears to have milder symptoms than the Delta variant, but it is more infectious, so high case numbers are still leading to thousands of people being hospitalised.

    “To avoid endless waves of this deadly virus, we need vaccines to be available to everyone, in every country, especially for people who have not yet had their first dose and those most at risk, including older people and healthcare workers.”


    Image: Sri Lanka Red Cross health workers attend to a throng of people queueing outside a local hospital, waiting for treatment or vaccinations.

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