New Delhi: As the Omicron variant of the coronavirus progresses through the country — possibly replacing other variants — India is equipped to handle anywhere between 10 lakh and 20 lakh daily cases depending on hospitalisation numbers, according to top government sources.
The country reported 2,47,417 new cases in the 24 hours preceding Thursday, with the test positivity rate standing at 13.11 per cent.
A senior official associated very closely with pandemic management told ThePrint that going by the international experience of Omicron, it is possible that the number of Covid cases requiring hospitalisation may dip even lower than the estimate of 5-10 per cent that the Government of India had informed states about in a letter earlier this week.
“In the United Kingdom, when Omicron was first detected, the hospitalisation rate stood at 6 per cent. But as the pandemic progressed and the more infective variant edged others out, it came down to 1 per cent. In India, we had made preparations for subsequent waves, drawing on the experience of the second wave, which was driven majorly by Delta,” the official said.
“If we were to see a rerun now of a Delta-driven wave, I would say we could handle about five lakh cases. If hospitalisations are down to a quarter of what they were then, we could handle four times that number. To that extent, 20 lakh is a reasonable estimate,” added the official.
During the weekly Covid briefing on 5 January, NITI Aayog member (health) Dr V.K. Paul had shared a similar estimate while refusing to comment on the current state of preparedness vis-à-vis Omicron.
“It is true that we had earlier said that we can handle a daily surge of 4.5-5 lakh cases. But that was based on the hospitalisation numbers of Delta. We need some more time to understand the numbers for Omicron before we can make a statement about the state of preparedness,” Dr. Paul had then said.
In his letter to states and Union territories on 10 January, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan wrote that 20 to 23 per cent of Covid cases in the country had needed hospitalised care during the second surge. In the present surge, he added, “5 to 10 per cent of affected cases have needed hospitalisation so far. The situation is dynamic in evolving, therefore the need for hospitalisation may change rapidly,” he said.
He also urged states to assess the situation every day based on the number of active cases, and the numbers in hospital or requiring oxygen.
India currently has 18,03,266 isolation beds and 1,24,598 ICU beds.
Sharp surge in many states
Analysis by the Union health ministry shows that in the week preceding 12 January, the number of active cases in several states had multiplied. The highest increase — 14 times (from 3,173 active cases to 44,466) — was recorded in Uttar Pradesh, which is headed for an assembly election in the coming weeks.
Another poll-bound state, Punjab, has seen its active cases increase by a factor of 8.65. Madhya Pradesh and Bihar are among the other states with a high rate of increase over the past week, by factors of 10.95 and 11.27, respectively.
However, India is banking both on the perceived mildness of Omicron, which is currently the dominant variant at least in Indian cities, and the vaccination status of large parts of the population, to be in better control of the pandemic than last time.
As of Wednesday, 92 per cent of Indian adults had received at least one dose of the vaccine, 68 percent had got two doses and 38 per cent of minors in the 15-18 years category had received at least one dose. Booster doses have also been rolled out for healthcare workers, frontline workers and senior citizens with comorbidities.
(Edited by Rohan Manoj)