December 8, 2022

Is the pandemic ending? Time to drop fear, but not masks, feel experts | Mumbai News – Times of India

MUMBAI: It is no longer mandatory to wear face masks in the UK, and Sweden has scrapped the need for a negative Covid test to enter the country. Closer home, Thailand has announced quarantine free tourism from February 1.
Is the end of the Covid pandemic near? The Covid-causing coronavirus has stumped experts so often that only a few are willing to reply in affirmative, but the overwhelming consensus is that “it is time to stop living in fear”.
The pandemic could continue for a “few months more” before transforming into an endemic disease with localised outbreaks for the next few years, said a doctor from a civic hospital. Physician Gautam Bhansali believes cities such as Mumbai should consider Covid-19 as a seasonal flu. “We dealt with the Omicron wave without any stress on health infrastructure, oxygen shortage or crisis of beds. We cannot ignore the fact that 95% of the people who are testing positive are asymptomatic,” he said.
Epidemiologist Dr Jayaprakash Muliyil, who came under fire for equating Omicron with the flu, told TOI the fact remains that the new variant spreads like cold and causes a mild disease. In the UK, 70% of people with cold tested positive for Omicron.
“In Washington, they looked at 3,340 Omicron positive cases where mortality was zero. Similarly, in California, 53,000 Omicron infections were studied and negligible mortality was found. The third wave has shown that India’s health system can also handle the load,” said Dr Muliyil.
Dr Shashank Joshi, a member of the Maharashtra government’s task force on Covid-19, has a different take on the new liberal Covid policies. “The policies adopted by some foreign countries merely mark a shift in policies (rather than the end of Covid),” he said.
Three factors, said Joshi, have brought about these changes: the new wave is relatively mild, large pockets of the world are vaccinated against Covid-19, and the realisation that continued restrictions would be detrimental to the economy and education.
Critical care specialist Dr Kedar Toraskar, who is also a member of the Maharashtra task force, said the “worst part” is over and Mumbai could be heading towards better herd immunity. However, he cautions against ditching the mask and other safety precautions. “Countries that have relaxed their norms have very small population as compared to India,” he said.
Vellore-based virologist Dr T Jacob John too believes it is too early to mention endemicity.
“Unfortunately, there is a general perception that Omicron is not a serious problem, which is a mistake. There are hospitalisations and avoidable deaths, but lower when compared to Delta,” he said, adding that the disease is likely to become endemic by March or April. “India was in an endemic stage for 25 weeks before Omicron hit. So it’s early to think Covid has become endemic,” he added.
However, experts said there could be a subtle change in policies in India as well. For one, RT-PCR should be restricted to coronavirus-associated pneumonia, said Muliyil. “Community-level testing for all has little significance now,” he said. Joshi said it’s time for “reverse isolation”, that is asking people who are aged and vulnerable due to comorbidities to stay isolated.
Can there be another Covid wave? Doctors don’t rule it out. “But the robust immunity created by Omicron, plus exposure to Delta and vaccination should help people,” said Muliyil.

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