Omicron could overwhelm Indian hospitals within weeks, doctors warn

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Most were suffering from a cough, cold and a fever which subsided after a few days, giving way to lethargy, weakness and a headache.

Dr Baid’s observation was echoed by other doctors in Mumbai. “Our wards are filling up with Covid-19 patients again but the good news so far is that cases haven’t been too serious or required admission to ICUs,” said Dr Akash Khobragade, Deputy Medical Superintendent at Sir JJ Hospital in Mumbai.

There is strong evidence to suggest that omicron is less severe than delta but estimates vary. One study by Imperial College London looking at early data from the UK suggests omicron infection results in a 15 to 20 per cent less chance of hospitalisation.

But experts warn the number of hospitalisations could still exceed those by delta, due to omicron’s greater transmissibility and ability to infect more people.

The sheer numbers of patients needing hospital treatments is worrying doctors in a country that has one of the world’s most underfunded public healthcare systems and is already suffering from chronic staffing shortages.

“One key study from South Africa found that while omicron’s hospitalisation rate was one-quarter of delta’s, omicron also caused far more infections over a similar time period,” saids Dr Swapneil Parikh, one of India’s leading physicians, who is based in Mumbai.

“Omicron caused about four times more infections than delta over a similar time period. The concern here in India is that if growth is so much faster with omicron, we could see hospitals reaching capacity in two to three weeks because we have such little surge capacity.”

Night curfews have been imposed in all major Indian cities ahead of new year celebrations and restaurants and bars have been ordered to limit the number of customers.

Many cities have introduced their own further restrictions. In Delhi, schools, cinemas and gyms have been closed until further notice, while in Mumbai public gatherings of over five people have been banned.

The eastern Indian state of West Bengal, home to the city of Kolkata, has also banned incoming flights from the UK from January 3.

Despite the rapid spread of omicron the restrictions have been met with public outcry. Indians have spent a large proportion of the last 18 months under lockdown, which has decimated its largely informal economy and pushed over 200 million people into poverty.

India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has also continued to hold large political rallies, ahead of several key state elections next year, attracting thousands of largely mask-less attendees.

A large music festival in the popular tourist destination and BJP-ruled state of Goa, Sunburn, was also allowed to go ahead this week despite public health experts warning it could be a super spreader event.

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