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Krishnapatnam villagers oppose Anandaiah’s Omicron medicine distribution


Remember Dr Anandaiah, the man who claimed to have healed Covid positive patients with his herbal potions? He is back in the news again, but for wrong reasons. With the spike in the Omicron cases, Anandaiah has once again claimed that he has a cure for Omicron and that he would distribute it at his native village of Krishnapatnam.

The villagers are now opposing the distribution of the medicines. The villagers are questioning the rationale of distributing the medicine even before there are cases of Omicron infection/

The villagers on Monday stopped the distribution of the medicine. They said due to the distribution of medicine, there could be more infections in the village. They said that people from various parts of the country are descending on the village and this could lead to newer infections. They wanted Anandaiah to stop the distribution of the medicine.

A wordy duel ensued between Anandaiah and his villagers. An angry Anandaiah asked the locals as to why they were objecting when the medicine was being distributed at his residence. But, the people said that there could be carriers of infections and wanted him to stop distributing the medicine. This caused quite a commotion for several hours.

The police, who came to know about the argument, rushed to the spot and pacified both the groups. They told Anandaiah to distribute the medicine on the outskirts of the village so that the locals are spared of the traffic jam and other commotion. Anandaiah agreed to this and said he would soon set up a kiosk on the outskirts of the village.

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Alert in Hyderabad’s Paramount Colony after 2 Omicron cases detected


The health authorities on Thursday sounded an alert in a residential area in Hyderabad where two cases of Omicron were detected among foreigners.

Teams of health workers along with the employees of Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) were conducting door to door surveys in Paramount Colony in the Toli Chowki area.

All the foreign nationals living in the area and their contacts were being traced and tested under the special drive. The municipal staff also formed a containment zone as part of the precautionary measure.

A 23-year-old female from Kenya and 24-year-old male from Somalia had tested positive for Covid on arrival at the Hyderabad International Airport on December 12. Since they came from countries other than ‘at-risk’ countries they were allowed to go home, but their samples were sent for genome sequencing. The results available on Wednesday showed them to be positive.

The health officials traced both the persons in Paramaount Colony and shifted them to Telangana Institute of Medical Sciences (TIMS), the government designated isolation facility for Omicron cases.

Director of public health Dr G. Srinivasa Rao said the contacts of the two persons were also sent for RT-PCR tests.

The health workers conducted Covid tests on all the residents of the two apartment buildings where the two foreigners were living. All those who came in contact with them were also subjected to RT-PCR tests.

As the Somalian, who tested positive for Omicron, had visited two corporate hospitals for checkup and went to a couple of other places in the city on Monday and Tuesday, the authorities were trying to trace those who came in contact with him.

About 100 Covid tests were conducted in the areas during the last 24 hours. The results are likely to be available later in the day. Officials said the samples of those found positive will be sent for genome sequencing. The GHMC staff also took up spraying disinfectants in the area.

Foreign nationals, mostly from African countries, take houses on rent in Paramount Colony and surrounding localities in Toli Chowki.

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Andhra steps up vigil after first Omicron case


Andhra Pradesh, which reported its first Omicron case on Sunday, has stepped up vigil with Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy on Monday directing the Health Department to take all necessary steps required to prevent spread of the new variant of Covid-19.

At a meeting with top officials, the Chief Minister reviewed the prevailing Covid situation and progress of vaccination.

The state on Sunday reported the first case of Omicron. A 34-year-old man, who returned to Vijayanagaram district from Ireland late last month, tested positive for the new variant.

A total of 15 foreign returnees tested positive for Covid-19. Of them, genome sequencing reports of 10 people have been received. While nine tested negative for the new variant, the result of remaining five is awaited.

The officials informed the Chief Minister that RT-PCR tests are being conducted at the airports in the wake of the Omicron variant. They said a gene sequencing lab will be set up in a week.

The officials also informed Jagan Mohan Reddy that the 32nd Fever Survey is being conducted across the state. The state currently has 1,912 active Covid-19 cases. The recovery rate stands at 99.21 percent while the positivity rate is 0.52 percent.

The officials said oxygen generation plants will be set up in 100- bed private hospitals across the state. They said 23,457 oxygen concentrators, 27,311 D type cylinders are available in the state and added that 144 PSA plants will be available in government hospitals by the end of December.

The Chief Minister instructed the officials to coordinate with the Central government and ensure two doses of vaccination are completed to all the prescribed age groups by January.

He also reviewed the progress of works related to construction of village and urban clinics and Nadu Nedu works in government hospitals. He said the change due to the Nadu Nedu programme should be clearly visible and instructed the officials to display ‘before-after’ photos after completion of the works.

He directed the officials to expedite the construction of new medical colleges and said to create awareness among the people on Aarogyasri on empanelled hospitals, a hoarding should be displayed in village secretariats in this regard. He said village clinics should be made referral points and ANMs in village secretariats should take up the responsibility till village clinics are made available.

He said there should be proper information and guidance on empanelled hospitals and Aarogyasri services and added that the same information should be available in 108 ambulances and these services should be extended to 104 call centres.

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IIT-Hyderabad’s new Covid tracker to predict post-Omicron scenario


The new Covid-tracking website launched by the Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad, is equipped with several capabilities, including predicting the future course of the pandemic.

The IIT-Hyderabad on Friday formally launched covid19tracker.in that has been built as an alternative to the covid19india.org website which had been set up early 2020, when the Covid pandemic struck India, and was the most popular website for such information, in addition to the Ministry website.

IIT-Hyderabad decided to develop the new site after the creators of covid19india.org had announced in August 2021 that they would no longer maintain up-to-date statistics after October 31, 2021.

Understanding the criticality of the information to Indians, including researchers, students, and the public, the Director of IIT-Hyderabad authorised a team of developers to carry on the work beyond November 1, 2021.

Prof M. Vidyasagar FRS, Distinguished Professor at IIT-Hyderabad, said: “Currently, we have gone beyond the original website by including predictions for the future course of the pandemic, generated by the SUTRA Consortium of which IIT-Hyderabad is a member. Most recently, we have included the projections for the post-Omicron scenario as well. In the future, we plan to enhance the website by including a search feature to highlight trends and raise alerts as and when required. If resources permit, we will monitor not just India but other countries as well. The emergence of the Omicron variant of concern shows that India cannot collect and monitor its data in isolation.”

The website covid19tracker.in, has been built using the public code base of covid19india.org website.

Prof Bheemarjuna Reddy Tamma, Chair, Computer Centre, IITH, said, “While the front-end of our website has the same user interface as that of the original website (covid19india.org), the back-end was developed in-house by a group of enthusiastic students of IIT-Hyderabad and maintained by the staff members of Computer Center. The website has been hosted on a public cloud platform to make it highly scalable and responsive even when web traffic shoots up.”

Expressing his delight on the launch, Prof B.S. Murty, Director, IIT-Hyderabad said, “This website, which will be an important resource for everyone interested in data related to the Covid-19 pandemic in India. Our site has attracted considerable traffic despite having been created so recently. In fact, we have noted that the Worldometers website for India uses just two sources — our site, and that of MoHFW.”

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India better prepared to face Omicron, says health expert


India is better prepared to face the Omicron wave, if it comes, but people should always wear double face masks as these continue to be the best protection against any variant and take vaccines while regulatory authorities should authorise emergency use of two oral drugs for treatment of Covid-19, said a health systems expert.

Dr Krishna Reddy Nallamalla said while it has become clearly evident that Omicron is more infectious than Delta variant, the ongoing debate is by how much. Preprint research publication from South Africa has convincing evidence that it evades immunity acquired after natural infection.

“Everyone has kept their fingers crossed as to its virulence (ability to cause more serious illness, hospitalisations and deaths). Initial reports that the cases are generally mild may be giving a false hope as Covid illness generally worsens during 2nd to 3rd week after the onset of infection as the immune system becomes hyperactive in response to the multiplying virus. Secondly, dominantly younger African population with stronger innate immunity may not develop severe illness. We have to closely watch its behaviour in elderly and population with other comorbidities,” says Dr Reddy, President (South Asia), InOrder, a nonprofit institute working to strengthen systems to secure health

Most of the vaccines, in general, have demonstrated their effectiveness against new variants including Delta in preventing hospitalisations and deaths. However, their effectiveness seems to be waning rapidly over time (6 to 9 months after 2nd dose), necessitating booster doses to those at high risk and to all adults if sufficient vaccine supplies are available.

Whether Omicron evades immunity from existing vaccines is yet to be ascertained as the percentage of people who have been fully vaccinated is still low in Africa.

A hint from the CEO of Moderna (that makes mRNA-based vaccines) that they may need to develop a new vaccine to tackle Omicron is a pointer that it may evade immunity from vaccines as well. “However, we have to await data on breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated people,” said Dr Reddy who is also regional director (South Asia) of global health nonprofit, ACCESS Health International

The leading cardiologist pointed out that parents are the most worried as schools and colleges have just begun to open after nearly two years of studying from home. Government is awaiting expert committee recommendations on vaccinating children and booster doses to adults. “We were fortunate that the earlier variants did not impact children and young people as they have done with elderly. It is still not clear if Omicron behaves in the same way or differently. Until new evidence comes out, it is prudent to keep children at home and follow Covid appropriate behaviour.”

He believes that India has responded in a balanced way. The country did the right thing by not shutting down its borders but taking standard measures of screening, testing, quarantine, and isolation of incoming people. The government has ramped up its vaccination drive as reluctant people become more than willing to get vaccinated given the scare of the new wave.

Face mask and vaccination certificate mandates have been reintroduced to domestic travellers across state borders.

Hospitals across the country are better prepared now in terms of oxygen surplus capacity and ventilator beds. People and businesses have learnt to reinstate Covid appropriate behaviour at short notice.

“Regulatory bodies may fast track emergency use authorisation of two oral drugs (from Merck and Pfizer) that have demonstrated effectiveness against Covid virus. Fortunately, many Indian pharma companies have been licensed to manufacture and distribute Molnupiravir of Merck. Many others may be in talks with Pfizer for licensing its drug. These drugs are expected to be effective against Omicron variant as well as their site of action is not likely influenced by the numerous mutations seen over the spike protein. However, monoclonal antibodies developed against spike antigens may be less effective in view of the mutations.”

According to Dr Reddy, face masks continue to be the best protection against any variant. However, correct use of these have to be repeatedly emphasised through public awareness campaigns. To be effective, these masks have to be properly fitting over nostrils to prevent virus going into the body. Double masks (cloth masks covered with surgical masks) are the most cost-effective protection and are almost comparable to N95 masks which may be expensive for many.

Airlines may stop serving or allowing eatables in planes until things become clearer. Eateries may reintroduce social distancing as people have to remove their masks during eating. Social protection (free rations, direct benefit transfers, unemployment benefits, etc) be extended until the situation settles. Governments should address growing inequity due to Covid, he added.

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Samples of woman arrived in Hyd from UK sent for genome sequencing


A 35-year-old woman who arrived in Hyderabad from the UK has tested positive for coronavirus, a senior official said on Thursday.

The woman has been isolated at Telangana Institute of Medical Sciences (TIMS) and her samples have been sent for whole genome sequencing to ascertain if she was infected by Omicron, the new variant of Covid-19.

Director of Public Health, Dr. G. Srinivasa Rao told reporters that the health condition of the woman is good and she does not have any symptoms.

This is the first Covid positive case among passengers from ‘at risk’ countries arriving in Hyderabad.

He said a total of 206 passengers arrived at Rajiv Gandhi International Airport by British Airways and 119 by Singapore Airlines on Wednesday. Except for the 35-year-old woman, all passengers tested negative.

She was shifted to TIMS, the government designated facility for isolating Covid-19 positive travellers arriving from ‘at-risk’ countries.

The Health Department has strengthened surveillance at Hyderabad Airport and is conducting Covid tests on all passengers coming from 12 ‘at-risk’ countries.

They are European countries including the UK, South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong and Israel.

The passengers will have to wait at the Airport till they receive the results of Covid-19 tests.

As per the guidelines issued by the Centre, if the traveller is tested negative, they have to be home quarantined for seven days. They will be re-tested on the eighth day and if found negative, they will have to further self-monitor themselves for the next 7 days.

Those who test positive will be sent by special ambulances to TIMS. Two floors at TIMS building in Gachibowli have been kept for isolating such cases.

Their samples will be sent for genome sequencing and the results can be received in three days.

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