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Believe this: US' 95% of Covid cases are Omicron, India's 2%, model Gujarat's 0.43%

By Rajiv Shah* 

Scanning through news stories on Omicron, the new Covonavirus variant said to have been found in South Africa, I came across an interesting story, published in the New York-based network, CBS News. According to this story, published a couple of days ago, “The Omicron variant made up around 95.4% of new Covid-19 cases in the US last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.”
It added, “Only two regions of the US -- New England and part of the Midwest -- have yet to reach 90% locally. The Delta variant, which was dominant up until a few weeks ago, makes up nearly all the other cases.”
I got interested in this news item after I found that in my state, Gujarat, they were reporting very few Omicron cases, if one goes by the data fished out by the State government. Last weekend, on Saturday, for instance, Gujarat reported just about 23 new Omicron cases, which is said to have taken the tally of the “highly infectious” variant to 136, the State health department data said.
This comes, to -- imagine! – less than 0.43% of the total Covid cases in Gujarat, which was 5,396 cases on that day. What a sharp contrast, I thought, if one compares to what one find in the US. A report said,  the 5,396 cases was the highest reported tally in 24 hours, with daily cases increasing 10-fold from 51 on December 19.
This made me look at the total Covid and Omicron cases India reported in India on that day: It was 1,41,986 on Saturday. However, on the same very day, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said, there just about 3,071 cases (or just about 2.16%) of the Omicron variant reported from across India.
So, should one conclude that “model” Gujarat was doing an excellent job in containing Omicron? If India was doing much, much better than the US, Gujarat was doing it far better than even India, if one goes by the official data released in US, India and Gujarat.
Currently "holidaying" in US, I decided to contact one of my journalist friends in Gujarat to find out whether this is true. He agreed that there was a “story here”, but revealed to me that the State government had “virtually stopped” doing what is called “genome sequencing” for Omicron.
Looking at stories that emanated from Gujarat, I came across one in "Indian Express", which said, the State’s high-profile laboratory in Gandhinagar, the State capital, the Gujarat Biotechnology Research Centre (GBRC), was receiving just about “five to seven ‘high priority’ samples per day “for genome sequencing ever since the guidelines in view of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 came into effect with nearly 10 per cent of the samples detected with Omicron so far.”
I said to myself: Wow! What a model I have back home! Just 10% of 5-7 samples per day were Omicron! Less than one per day! This was of course about a week ago, but ever since the number of “high priority” cases being sent to GBRC may have gone up, I presumed.
I recalled: About two years ago, I had read about a controversy surrounding GBRC: When the number of deaths as a result of Covid drastically went up in April 2020, with the State government in a fix on explaining as to why it may have happened, the GBRC director came up with the theory what the high Covid-19 mortality rate in Gujarat could be due to the dominance of the L-type strain of coronavirus, found to have been more prevalent in Wuhan in China, where the outbreak started.
The story, carried in several dailies, quoted the director as stating, “Analysis done by scientists abroad has shown that the L-type strain has been dominant where more mortality is reported among coronavirus patients. This strain was found to be more prevalent in Wuhan."
Ironically, and this is very amusing, as this conclusion was based on examining Covid sample from just one patient. “The coronavirus sample we collected from a patient for genome sequence contained the L-type strain. This strain has a much higher virulence as compared to the S-strain,” the GBRC director reportedly said. The story I am quoting appeared in “The Hindu” on April 26, 2020.
Within two days, the online news portal, run by well-known journalist Shekhar Gupta, “The Print”, carried a strong refutation, suggesting that as of April 2020 – two years ago -- “there weren’t different strains of the novel coronavirus, just different mutations.”
Total number of deaths in Gujarat last year was a whopping 230% higher than what they were in 2018-19, the non-Covid years
The long report, full of technical details, stated, “In some media reports that appeared in India, Chaitanya Joshi, director of the state-run GBRC in Gandhinagar, which itself sequenced the novel coronavirus and provided data to Next Strain, was quoted as saying that L-type is known to cause higher mortality and that analysis done by scientists abroad have confirmed this.”
It underlined, “Joshi, who specialises in veterinary and animal sciences, said, ‘The coronavirus sample we collected from a patient for genome sequence contained the L-type strain. This strain has a much higher virulence as compared to the S-strain’.”
The report, by Sandhya Ramesh, insisted, “But there has been no such finding in the scientific community. This unproven theory about varying virulence is frequently used the world over to explain deaths or disease patterns that are not yet understood.”
Asserting that “Gujarat is wrong”, the refutation said, the L-type strain was considered “aggressive” due to its widespread prevalence, which by itself was affected by mobility restrictions and physical distancing measures, but “reports of one ‘strain’ being more deadly than the other have been regularly debunked by virologists online, including by the founders of Next Strain, a public database onto which sequenced genomes are uploaded.”
One has only to recall how Gujarat has been trying to underplay a huge spike in deaths as a result of Covid. According to one report, which appeared in “The Times of India”, Ahmedabad, a couple of days ago, the total number of deaths in Gujarat last year was a whopping 230% higher than what they were in 2018-19, the non-Covid years. And this was higher than any other State of India.
The report said, “A paper by researchers from India, Canada and the US indicated that the overall all-cause death during April-May 2021 peak Covid second wave was 230% higher in Gujarat as compared to average monthly mortality recorded in 2018-19. According to the estimates, Gujarat’s death toll rose from average 17,000 per month to 39,000 per month during April-May 2021.”
“This was the highest among 16 Indian states under survey. The paper, published in the international journal Science, claimed that the all-India excess was 120% as the deaths rose from average 3.75 lakh to 4.5 lakh for the two months”, the report said.
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*Editor, Counterview

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