COVID-19 is spreading in Tamil Nadu at a dangerous pace with new infections rising from 606 on Christmas to 1,489 cases on New Year’s day and finally 2,731 on January 4 and the active cases shooting up from 6,708 to 12,412 in that period. The number of Omicron cases have increased from 45 a week ago to 121.
Chennai has again become the COVID-19 hotbed with the state’s capital reporting more than half of the fresh infections on January 4 and the rate of hospitalisation increasing.
On January 2, state health minister Ma Subramanian said that “we may assume that the third wave of COVID-19 has hit the state with a sudden surge in cases expected in the form of a tsunami” despite several restrictions, including shutting classes for students of classes one to eight and reducing the occupancy in cinema theatres/multiplexes, dine-in restaurants, jewellery shops and others to 50%, on December 31.
HOSPITALS BECOME ‘AMPLIFYING SPACES’
Former Tamil Nadu director of public health K Kolandaisamy told Newsclick that “hospitals have become amplifying spaces of COVID-19”. Calling for restriction on crowding at hospitals, he said, “The number of attendants and caregivers of patients should be restricted to one or at most two. It should be ensured that the attendant/caregiver is vaccinated and preferably a young person without comorbidities.”
Closed air-conditioned places, like jewellery showrooms, textile shops and cinema theatres, are “high-risk places. Restricting the crowd to 50% wouldn’t be of much use. The government should rethink some decisions”, he added.
OMICRON IS MILD BUT ‘CAN’T BE TAKEN LIGHTLY’
It is widely understood that the Omicron variant is mild and the symptoms for those infected are not very dangerous. However, experts point out that it cannot be taken lightly. “Omicron has mild symptoms among the healthy, vaccinated and young. But people who are above 50 years and not vaccinated are at high risk,” said Kolandaisamy.
Moreover, even if the symptoms are mild among the majority of the infected, it is a fast-spreading variant that could affect a much larger percentage of the population. Therefore, even a lower proportion of severe cases could put pressure on the state’s health system.
‘UNVACCINATED POPULATION STILL LARGE’
The unvaccinated population of the state is still large with respect to absolute numbers. At least, 96 lakh people are due for their second dose of vaccines while 70 lakh are yet to receive the first dose. At least, 83.22% of Tamil Nadu’s eligible population are vaccinated with the first dose and 58.82% with both doses.
“To assume that only a meagre 20% of the population is not vaccinated and thereby the risk would be low is wrong. If Chennai’s population is roughly 1 crore, 20% of that is 20 lakh people, which is a large number” added Kolandaisamy.
Besides, these figures refer only to people who are either 18 or above, not to children, who also get infected and are potential carriers of the virus. The state launched a vaccination programme for the population in the 15-18-year age group on January 3 and 33.20 adolescents/children are awaiting the doses.
If booster doses are not provided by the Centre to the states on time, the vaccinated would also be equally affected by the infection.