Omicron threatens to overwhelm health systems in South Asia: IFRC
Kuala Lumpur/Delhi —- The Omicron variant is fuelling a rapid surge of COVID-19 across South Asia that threatens to overwhelm health systems still reeling from a deadly wave of the Delta variant last year.
Countries across South Asia from India to Nepal and Bangladesh are reporting alarming increases in COVID-19 infections, with India alone reporting a 2,013 per cent increase in COVID-19 infections in the past month, with cases now topping 179,000 in a day.
The new wave is causing further misery for hundreds of millions of people across South Asia, already living in extreme poverty, exacerbated by COVID-19 over the past two years.
Udaya Regmi, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Head of Delegation, South Asia, said:
“This latest surge of COVID-19 spells immense danger for millions of people and health systems across South Asia. Omicron is spreading fast and while vaccination rates have been soaring, after such tragic loss of life last year, fear is mounting of record infection rates.
“People everywhere want this pandemic to end but we must boost efforts to keep people safe with the basics, by wearing masks, avoiding crowds, and getting fully vaccinated where possible.”
Last year, health systems were boosted by IFRC with increased supplies of oxygen equipment across South Asia, helping health authorities to be prepared for this latest COVID-19 surge.
Several million Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers are working hard to provide people most at risk with access to lifesaving medical care, testing and vaccinations.
In South Asia, a majority of countries have vaccinated less than 50 per cent of their population, putting people at greater risk of developing severe illness and requiring hospitalisation. India has fully vaccinated 45 per cent of its population, while Pakistan has 32.8 per cent and Bangladesh 33 per cent who have received two jabs, according to Oxford University’s Our World in Data.
Dr Abhishek Rimal, IFRC’s Asia Pacific Emergency Health Coordinator, said:
“The Omicron variant appears to have milder symptoms than the Delta variant, but it is more infectious, so high case numbers are still leading to thousands of people being hospitalised and hundreds are dying.
“We must accelerate efforts to get everyone vaccinated, and it’s critical to wear masks and avoid crowds, to keep families, friends and people most vulnerable safe.
“To avoid endless waves of this deadly virus, we need vaccines to be available to everyone, in every country, especially for people who have not yet had their first dose and those most at risk, including older people and healthcare workers.”