Despite being the first state to achieve 100 per cent vaccination, defying all geographical and climatic difficulties, Himachal Pradesh’s hill stations and remote high-altitude, snow-capped valleys are seeing an increase in HIV cases. ‘Omicron.
As many as 70 deaths in the past 11 days, 11,441 active cases and almost triple that number of unreported cases have created an alarming situation. The state has a fully vaccinated population of 62.72 lakh.
The spread of the infection is quite rapid, although the symptoms in the majority of cases are “mild”, except for people with comorbidities.
Dr. Jagdeep Thakur, a professor in the ENT department at Indira Gandhi Medical College (IGMC), Shimla, says almost one in three families, including in the capital Shimla, are under the influence of the new variant. People are not showing up to doctors or avoiding tests and resorting to home remedies in a timely manner.
The four districts of the state i.e. Kangra, Shimla, Sirmaur and Hamirpur contribute nearly 60-65% of the total number of cases even though the high altitude villages of Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti, under subzero freezing, are in the grip of the new one variant.
The positivity rate is always above 20%.
“We are monitoring the situation closely as it could go either way, down or up. We are ready for the higher sides and have set up control rooms at sub-divisional levels for rapid action,” Special Secretary (Health) Hemraj Bhairva told Outlook.
Health professionals attribute the rise in remote and high-altitude areas to living behind closed doors in communal family homes during winter months and snowfall. The houses are small and people live together, eat in common rooms or live near the heating space.
“There is a higher chance of catching respiratory infections easily from own family members or visitors. The positive thing noticed in the third wave is that most people are vaccinated and there is a lot of awareness about medicines and home remedies,” says Dr. Jagdeep Thakur.
The hospital admission rate is just under 2% which has not created any crisis situation in the state.
The health department’s projection, according to the latest data, shows that there will be 50,000 active cases over the next two weeks. The government has notified Deen Dayal Upadhyaya (DDU) Hospital in Shimla as a dedicated Covid hospital to respond to emergencies.
Children have so far been able to escape the worst effects of Covid-19 but among the 55 reported deaths there were four children. So health officials released new guidelines for hospitals to treat asymptomatic and symptomatic cases. Educational institutions across the state have already been closed after several boarding schools and colleges reported higher numbers of students testing positive.
“It is common knowledge that the winter season, especially in higher latitudes, is the most difficult part of the year for patients with chronic respiratory diseases. Inhalation of cold air has negative effects on the lungs with respiratory diseases and especially on asthma patients. Omicron infection is a new dimension this time,” explains ENT specialist Dr. RS Minhas.
Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur has ruled out the import of fresh curbs. The number of deaths that have occurred is concerning, although daily cases have decreased slightly over the past four to five days.
“The government is currently focusing on preventing the spread of infections and then on dedicated healthcare for home-isolated patients. More than 40,000 home-isolation kits have been prepared for free distribution to patients. it’s basically immunity boosters and some mild medications,” he says.