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People with comorbidities at high risk even with Omicron, say experts

‘Though infections could be mild, there is no room for complacency’

Although Omicron infections are reported to be clinically milder, those with comorbidities are still at high risk for complications, experts said.

The virus may be mild for some but may behave differently in those who have comorbidities. There should be no complacency, especially in the case of patients with multiple comorbidities, those having immunocompromised conditions and those unvaccinated, doctors said.

C.N. Manjunath, nodal officer for labs and testing in the State’s COVID-19 task force, said that Omicron cannot be taken lightly at all owing to its high transmissibility. One should not have a false sense of security that Omicron is a milder infection, he said.

“It is spreading rapidly at an unprecedented rate and is expected to overtake the Delta variant in the coming weeks. We cannot dismiss Omicron as mild since the sheer number of predicted cases may overwhelm the health system,” he said.

Asserting that vaccination protects against hospitalisation and deaths, irrespective of the variant (Delta or Omicron), Dr. Manjunath said: “Although the number of hospitalizations are less now, the situation can go out of control if the cases surge. If we end up with thousands of cases every day and even if 3-4% require hospitalisation, the healthcare system will be again thrown out of gear.”

“We cannot afford to let our guard down. It is good if you are vaccinated. But vaccination cannot be a replacement for masking, physical distancing, crowding and ventilation,” he said.

Consultant pulmonologist at Apollo Hospitals Ravindra Mehta, who is part of the State’s COVID-19 expert committee, said although preliminary data is indicating that Omicron is mild, it is not mild to the point that nothing will happen. “If we take Delta’s virulence as the benchmark, the new variant is 40-50% milder. But we do not have the final word as yet and will have to wait for more evidence,” he said.

He asserted that people with comorbidities are always the most vulnerable during this pandemic. They should get into a ‘hyper-precaution’ mode and take the booster shot as and when available. With the management protocol being the same as that for other variants, Dr. Mehta advised that among observing other parameters, keeping a tab on the oxygen saturation (for any drop below 94%) holds the key to ensure patients do not slip into the danger zone.

M.K. Sudarshan, chairman of the State’s COVID-19 Technical Advisory Committee said it does matter whether the infection is due to Delta or Omicron as isolation and treatment protocols for patients infected with any variant are the same. And, those with comorbidities are the most vulnerable, irrespective of the variant, he said.

“Diagnosis of Omicron is getting delayed due to the long process of genome sequencing. Actually, confirmation of Omicron is more a matter of curiosity than concern.”

He said as Omicron infections are known to be milder, many may not need hospital beds. “That is why the TAC has advised the BBMP to gear up and keep hospitals ready (with respect to facilities, supplies and trained manpower) and set up /reactivate COVID Care Centres (CCCs). Well-equipped CCCs when readied in time will decongest hospitals making beds available for those who need critical care,” he added.

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