DTE Exclusive: 70% COVID-19 cases in Kolkata now due to Omicron

Ganga Sagar Mela given go-ahead by Calcutta High Court with conditions

By Jayanta Basu
Published: Friday 07 January 2022
Photo: istock
Photo: istock Photo: istock

Seven of every 10 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) positive cases in Kolkata, the city with India’s maximum COVID-19 positivity rate, are afflicted with the omicron variant, a senior scientist associated with the ‘Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG)’ said January 7, 2022.

INSACOG has been set up to monitor the genomic variations in SARS-CoV-2 within the country and includes several scientific institutions. The cases from Kolkata are genetically sequenced at the National Institute of Biomedical Genomics located in Kalyani, West Bengal.

“According to our analysis of nearly 500 samples collected late December-early January, about 70 per cent of the samples have omicron variants,” the scientist told this reporter January 7 afternoon.

The latest finding is from a study that INSACOG has started countrywide, particularly within metro cities, since December 20 to understand the emerging impact of omicron in India.

“We were finding about 15-20 per cent omicron cases within samples from Kolkata in late December. But the situation has clearly changed since Christmas and the New Year,” the scientist said, pointing out that like Delhi and Mumbai, delta has been largely replaced by omicron in Kolkata.

Large-scale violation of COVID-19 protocols during year-end revelry had contributed to the quick upsurge of omicron, as it is highly infectious, according to the scientist.

The scientist said INSACOG was yet to come across any sample which had both delta and omicron infection.

A statement by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, released January 7, showed only 27 omicron cases in West Bengal out of 3,007 total cases in India.

However, the actual number is much more as Kolkata is clocking thousands of cases every day. On January 6, Kolkata had 6,569 cases.

The Union ministry said January 7 that Kolkata had become the district with India’s maximum positivity rate – 53.1 per cent – during the week December 31-January 6.

Howrah, Kolkata’s neighbour, ranked third in the national list with a positivity rate of 39.5 per cent. Himachal Pradesh’s remote Lahaul-Spiti was second.

Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Bengaluru were far down the ladder, with 12.19, 23.26, 10.58 and 5.42 percentages of Covid positivity respectively.

Covid positivity rate indicates the proportion of positive cases within the total cases.

Doctors corroborate

Doctors, with whom this reporter spoke, agreed with the trend revealed by the INSACOG sources.

“The milder symptoms, compared to what we were used to see within patients during the second wave when the oxygen requirement, hospitalisation and mortality was considerably higher, may be the tell-tale evidence that omicron is causing most infections now,” Arup Haldar, a pulmonologist and COVID-19 physician linked to a private hospital, said.

Ajoy Sarkar, another COVID-19 expert from the city, said:

The fact that so many doctors, frontline medical workers and common people are getting affected in the current wave despite taking two vaccines, is proof that omicron has become the major variant of concern in Kolkata now, as it is known to have the ability to partly bypass the vaccines being administered.

Sarkar however added that vaccination had definitely contributed in reducing the possible severity of omicron and urged that booster doses needed to be given at the earliest to those who were most vulnerable.

“Most of doctors have taken the Covishield vaccine and that too within a gap of about four weeks though it was later established that a gap of 8 to 16 weeks is likely to trigger better immune response. Hence, many doctors have quite low levels of antibodies now and coupled with the omicron attack, are getting affected by a new wave of COVID-19,” Haldar said.

“We knew this was coming and hence have been upgrading infrastructure to counter the situation,” a senior official in the state health department, said.

More than 1,000 doctors, nurses and other frontline workers are suffering from COVID-19 in Kolkata at the moment, according to sources in the health department.

“If you consider the private hospitals, the number will be much more. Hence, we have appealed to the government to stop possible super spreader events like Ganga Sagar Mela or municipal elections for now,” Hiralal Konar, one of the conveners of Joint Platform of Doctors, West Bengal, said.

Konar pointed out that if this was not done, the numbers would rise exponentially and despite low severity, may put severe stress on the state’s already stretched health infrastructure. 

However, the Calcutta High Court January 7 cleared the Ganga Sagar Mela with conditions. The decision on holding elections in four municipal corporations is expected to be finalised January 11.

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