Despite lesser severity, till July 25, the number of deaths from COVID-19 in the fourth wave was six. Of them, three were unvaccinated. One had a dose of vaccination for COVID, while the other two had two doses of the vaccination. One common characteristic of all these six cases is that they have comorbidities. The number of positive cases since July 1 crossed the 1000-mark, and as on July it stood at 1,361.
Although the number of positive cases is high, the number of cases who were hospitalised is low, but the number is slowly creeping up. Of the total 100 beds in both RIMS and JNIMS for COVID-19 patients, 73 are under occupancy with 27 beds vacant as on July 25. In the next few days there may be 100 per cent occupancy.
Although most of the cases exhibit mild symptoms and were isolated at homes, with the cases increasing, the number of those requiring hospitalisation will keep on increasing and the government needs to be prepared to increase the number of beds.
The state government had also to weigh the pros and cons of restrictions and till now except for closure of schools, other precautionary measures are yet to be taken.
Is closing of schools for lower classes resonable?
From physical classes for class eight onwards resumed, but for smaller kids who are not eligible for vaccination, their classes still remain suspended. In all other activities there is no restriction, except the advice to wear masks, maintain hand hygiene and physical distancing, which were observed more in breach and all other activities continued as usual.
The sub-lineage causing the fourth wave seems to be more contagious and picking up the disease is very fast but the impact wears off quite fast. The number of children infected, despite the fact that they are not eligible for vaccination, is still small. This leads one to think whether the precaution of closing school for younger kids is reasonable and justifiable taking into consideration the data available.
Even with schools being closed, some parents are taking their small kids of four or five for an outing in crowded places like the Kangla Nongpok River WaterFront Park without wearing masks. In a few cases where masks are donned by the kids, the mask is ill fitted as it is usually of that of an adult, providing limited protection. There is no harm in children joining such outings provided correct fitting masks are donned and the masks are not taken out in public. In other words eating, etc in crowded places need to be discouraged.
This writer is of the view that as the children have lost a long period in attending schools, attending classes should be allowed, which may be optional in nature. This can be subject to the condition that crowding is avoided and if necessary staggered classes are conducted as done earlier and anyone who has symptoms whether teacher, staff or student refrain from attending schools. The reason is that in Manipur distance education mode is still difficult to practice though in countries like Australia, distance learning is a standard norm. Besides, non-cognitive areas of learning are totally neglected, much to the disadvantage of the kids.
In fact many teachers have shown concern about the lack of communication between the teachers and the students due to the distance mode of learning. When kids can be taken out in public without a mask for relaxation; there is no reason why they can’t attend school in a regulated manner. This suggestion is made after taking into consideration the number of kids found positive, not only in the fourth wave but in previous waves also and the severity of the disease among small kids are much lesser. Yes, those with any comorbidity may be refrained from attending schools, and it should be the responsibility of the parents to ensure this. Even for other children, the choice of their wards attending schools may be left to the wisdom of the parents.
The need for stringent action
Although the number of people in public wearing masks has increased in July, there are still many who still disregard the advice and go about mask-free merrily. The state must come down a bit more strictly on such violators as they are risking the health of not only themselves but of others. Rather than penalising them, they should be issued with a three layer medical mask for which they must pay Rs 10 and inform them that without a mask they should not come out in the open.
There are certain activities like contact sports where the players cannot wear masks. Here, it may be appropriate to give a set of guidelines to be fulfilled including the need for vaccination certificates for those in ages who are eligible for vaccination. This is despite the fact that the protection accorded by the vaccination is limited, though the severity of the disease is reported to be lower. For non-contact sports such as archery or shooting where masks can be worn during competition, there may hardly be any restriction except to wear masks all the time.
Many of those who are positive include many who have been vaccinated, including the precautionary dose. Efforts have been made to ramp up vaccination, including the administration of precautionary doses which as per the available data is poor. This is despite the fact that the protection provided by the current vaccines used is limited against the sub-lineages of the omicron variant, which is believed to be the main driver of the fourth wave.
Those who have comorbidities, whether vaccinated or not need to take special care as even those who had full doses are falling prey to the disease, even with death. Senior citizens, who have comorbidities, need to exercise more care and for them it is better to curtail public engagement. Even in unavoidable social engagement, it is always better to wewar a mask.
Community feasting is better avoided as one has to take off the mask while eating and there is always a higher chance of infection while eating, despite maintaining physical distance. The two metre distance prescribed is for those who wear masks and not for a mask free environment.
The decision of the state government not to impose debilitating restrictions is a sagacious decision in the right direction as with the changes in the character of the sub-lineages of the omicron variant, one has to try to live life as normal as possible. The lockdown in the last two years has had a dramatic impact on the economy, especially on those who are not in government jobs. Most have just come out from the effect of these lockdowns and any restrictions will lead to further pauperisation of a majority of the people.
However, a weekly review may be undertaken so that the situation is kept under control. Any change in the situation must be monitored closely and measured response kept ready for immediate rollout. The government should prepare a plan as to the various responses in different situations so that the application can be done expeditiously; and not go with a hyperbolic reaction when the situation deteriorates, as done in the past.
The mutation of the virus to a less virulent but more contagious variant is the natural way of ensuring that both the virus and its new hosts survives; a win-win situation for both of them. If the host dies, the virus also dies. For its enduring survival, the virus needs to ensure that the host does not die and the mutations seem to be going towards this direction. It is hoped that in a few years time, COVID-19 may follow the path of flu and a time may come when predictions can be made which sub-lineage or variant will be the dominant one as done for flu!
(The views expressed are personal)