Govt flags concerns over falling mask usage amid Omicron threattext_fields
New Delhi: The head of India's COVID Task Force has flagged the falling rates of mask usage amongst the population as a cause for concern even as scientists and doctors are warning against a potential rise in infections due to the Omicron variant of Covid-19.
Dr.V.K Paul told the New Indian Express that while the effectiveness of vaccines may be under study, masks were the "universal vaccine" against the virus, noting that low levels of mask usage contributed to the second wave of Covid-19.
"This comes from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation which does these estimates for several countries. Just before the second surge, mask usage was at a low level. When the cases started to rise dramatically in May, we all responded, and everyone started to wear masks out of fear," he said.
"In August, we saw a decline. And iDr n December, we have again gone back to the same position. According to this estimate, it has in fact declined even further compared to the March levels. In a way, we have entered the danger zone. Technically speaking, from a protection capability point of view, we are now operating at a low level. This is an unacceptable level. It is a risky level," he told TNIE.
While Omicron was not a burden to the healthcare system as of yet, the Delta variant was still active and was responsible for at least 70 cluster infections across the country, said Dr.Paul. Therefore it was a 'must' to keep using masks as well as get vaccinated in order to avoid "complete complacency".
"The global scenario, especially on Omicron and R0, is very disturbing. The UK is reporting 700 cases per million population. This is almost twice what we experienced earlier this year. This is not a small number. It is due to Delta, but Omicron is also contributing. France is also seeing a surge. The US is witnessing 4-5 lakh cases per day. We have to learn from the global situation. The virus can throw surprises. Therefore, we need to be vigilant. And the mask is a universal and social vaccine which is effective against any variant," he said.
Meanwhile, ICMR chief Dr.Balram Bhargava said that India was preparing to test the Covishield and Covaxin against cultures of the Omicron samples collected from the 25 cases detected in India so far. He said while India is still examining the issue of administering booster doses, the current data shows that antibody response persists for over 9 months after vaccination.