Omicron surge dark reminder of India's harrowing virus wave

As cases of the coronavirus omicron variant surge at an alarming pace, fears of a new coronavirus wave in India are growing by the day.

Omicron infections have nearly tripled in less than a week, a stark reminder of just how vulnerable the country of some 1.4 billion people, which was ravaged by one of the world’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks this year, remains to the virus.

From 415 on Christmas, India’s nationwide total of omicron cases has jumped to 1,270, with the highest figure registered in the western state of Maharashtra, according to Health Ministry data.

In Maharashtra, home to India’s financial hub Mumbai, over 8,000 infections were reported on Friday, a jump of more than 400% from under 1,500 this past Monday.

The number of omicron infections in the state has swelled to 454 since the first case was registered on December 4, leading to stricter curbs being introduced by state authorities.

Gatherings of more than four people have been prohibited in public places in Mumbai until at least Jan. 7, while people have been barred from visiting beaches, parks and other recreational spaces between 5 p.m. and 5 a.m. until Jan. 15.

Daily case numbers have also steadily grown in the capital New Delhi, crossing the 1,000 mark on Thursday with a total of 1,313.

The nationwide count over the past day was 16,764 cases and 220 related fatalities, raising India’s overall tally above 34.8 million, including 481,080 deaths.

According to the government, the rise in cases is being driven by a surge in 22 districts, pushing several states to reimpose night curfews.

“There is an uptick ... cases are now increasing, not shrinking,” Dr. V K Paul, a member of the National Institute for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog, the government’s main policy think tank, said at a news conference in New Delhi.

He said India’s current surge “could be part of the global rise in cases caused by the omicron variant.”

According to government data, over 60% of India’s eligible population has been vaccinated against COVID-19.

However, such statistics will do little to ease fears in a country where a devastating virus wave this year pushed daily infection and fatality figures over 400,000 and 4,500, respectively.

India’s health system was completely overwhelmed, with doctors helpless to save lives amid a severe lack of capacity and oxygen supplies.

As the death toll ran in the thousands for days at end, crematoriums in the Hindu-majority country struggled to cope up with the dreadful situation, leading to some truly nightmarish scenes in parts of India.

The Health Ministry, drawing on the bitter experience and hoping to avoid a repeat, has ordered all states to immediately ramp up rapid antigen testing and treat all people with symptoms as a “COVID-19 case unless proven otherwise.”​​​​​​​

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