Several states imposed tighter restrictions on Friday as Omicron’s tally hit 358.
Maharashtra has banned the gathering of more than five people in public places between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., while Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Haryana, linked to polling stations, have both imposed a cover – night fire – from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. – from Saturday.
It comes a day after the Madhya Pradesh government imposed similar mobility restrictions.
Odisha’s government also imposed new restrictions on the celebration of Christmas and New Years on Friday, while Gujarat extended the length of the nighttime curfew in eight cities by two hours. The new curfew times are 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., instead of 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., according to a notice issued by the state’s interior department.
In Maharashtra, restaurants, cinemas, theaters and gymnasiums will continue to operate at 50% of their capacity, while no more than 100 guests will be allowed at weddings in enclosed spaces like banquet / wedding halls and 250 guests in open spaces.
Likewise for social, political or religious functions, the total number of participants should not exceed 100 if they are held in an enclosed space and 250 if they take place in open spaces. Haryana has limited the maximum number of people at indoor and outdoor events to 200 and 300 people, respectively.
Faced with the increase in cases, the Union Health Ministry has declared itself ready to deal with a potential third wave, saying the country currently has 1.8 million isolation beds and capacity more than 18,000 tonnes of medical oxygen per day.
Maharashtra is now leading the pack with 88 Omicron cases, with Delhi (67) on its heels. Telangana (38) and Tamil Nadu (34) follow.
UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath chaired a review meeting on Friday and the state decided to restrict social events like weddings (limited to 200 people), step up police patrols to ensure the respecting appropriate behavior at Covid and strengthening vigilance in the air, bus and rail terminals for passengers arriving in the state.
Responding to media inquiries on whether the health ministry would call for a ban on public gatherings before the elections or recommend postponing election dates, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said all states had been asked to implement appropriate behavior at Covid and a template was shared with states on December 21.
The Center, however, asked the private health sector to be “ready” and to conduct audits to review the availability of essential drugs, beds, medical oxygen, etc.
After Tamil Nadu reported 33 new cases of Omicron in a single day, Chief Minister MP Stalin called for an urgent meeting of senior officials and the state is expected to impose strict restrictions soon to further combat the spread of Omicron. The state is also planning to test all international travelers landing at its airports.
Health Secretary J Radhakrishnan said about 26 of the new cases detected were in Chennai, making the capital the most vulnerable. Cases are expected to increase in the state, as 82 suspicious samples have been sent for genome sequencing.
The Delhi government is focused on ramping up health infrastructure, the capacity of institutional beds to treat 100,000 patients and test 300,000 samples per day.
The Union Health Ministry said on Friday that 1.8 million isolation beds were available nationwide. Bhushan said 494,314 beds are supplied with oxygen, while 139,300 intensive care beds are available nationwide. About 5 percent of intensive care beds are pediatric beds (24,057) and 4 percent of non-intensive care beds are available for children.
Bhushan said: “About 50% of funds from the Emergency Covid Response Package-2 – announced by the Center in August (of Rs 23,123 crore) – have already been disbursed to states. States are preparing 96,913 additional oxygen beds and 20,475 intensive care beds using these funds. An additional 9,574 pediatric intensive care beds will be added with the funds. “
He added that in the first wave (September 2020), the maximum demand for medical oxygen in one day was 1,000 tons, which rose to 10,000 tons per day in the second wave in May 2021. This demand was satisfied with the Center and the States working together, he said. “Today we have created a capacity of 18,836 tonnes of medical oxygen per day. This is the kind of ramp-up we’ve had since the second wave.
Regarding beds, experts said a third wave led by Omicron is unlikely to see daily active cases as high as the second wave when the population was vaccine naïve. In May, active cases had affected 3.75 million.
There are 20 districts in the country where the case positivity rate is above 5% but below 10%, the health ministry said. Only 2 districts (in Mizoram) have more than 10 percent positivity of cases in India.
Interestingly, of the 183 Omicron cases analyzed, 61% were men and 91% of people were fully vaccinated. About 73 percent of Omicron cases in India have a history of overseas travel.