New Delhi [India], Dec 2 (ANI): Members in Lok Sabha on Thursday expressed concerns about Omicron, the new variant of COVID-19, as they raised queries about "booster dose" and providing vaccination to the entire population of the country.
Participating in a marathon discussion, which lasted beyond 11 PM on "COVID-19 pandemic and various aspects related to it," the opposition members cautioned against a possible third wave of pandemic due to the new variant and said all steps should be taken to prevent its spread in the country. BJP members spoke of the steps taken by the government to boost medical infrastructure and provide relief to people.
Opposition members found fault with the government's policies regarding COVID-19 and accused it of being "complacent" before a serious second wave hit the country earlier this year. Members of BJP spoke about the steps taken by the government to boost health and medical infrastructure and step up vaccination.
Members expressed concern over the problems faced by children due to the pandemic, especially related to their education, and said there was also a "digital divide" which impacted the poor.
The members also drew attention to psychological issues faced by people due to the disease. Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the Omicron variant is becoming a threat.
"It has to be seen what is its global impact. Scientists have advised extreme caution against Omicron. Whatever information is available about the variant, it is most dangerous and has a high rate of infection. There is a need for timely steps and more alertness. The mistake of the past should not be repeated. If the right steps had been taken at the appropriate time (before the second wave) so many people would not have lost their lives. There is a lot of value in timely action," he said.
Noting that Omicron has been listed as a variant of concern by the WHO, Chowudhury said there is a risk of another possible wave due to the new variant.
BJP's Dr Sujay Radhakrishna Vikhepatil slammed the opposition parties and said they only find fault with what government does.
Referring to coronavirus and its new variant, he said the only way to fight is to vaccinate people. He said that nearly seven per cent of people have been vaccinated in African countries and added that South Africa, which first reported the new variant, has vaccinated about 29 per cent of its people with the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
He said the virus mutates and it is important that people in African countries also get vaccines. "Global vaccination is the only way".
The BJP member said that 80 crore people in India had been given the first dose of vaccine and 34 per cent of people have received both doses of vaccine.
Vikhepatil said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had shown leadership in global vaccination but the opposition parties were slamming the government for the export of vaccines.
Opposition members asked the government about the "booster dose".
DMK's Dr DNV SenthilkumarS said the Omicron variant is more dangerous than the delta variant with a higher risk of re-infection.
"With regard to the COVID situation -- be it the first wave or the second phase or the anticipated third phase -- the government's reaction has always been reactive and not pro-active. Initially, there were confusions in the travel advisories and proper screening was not done at the airports at the beginning of the months of January and February and suddenly the Prime Minister appeared and he announced a 21-day lockdown with a four-hour notice, with no preparation or no prior warning to the common man," he said.
He said lakhs of workers were forced to migrate due to the government's decisions.
Dr Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar of Trinamool Congress said there were unanswered questions about the origin of the virus which originated in China.
"Is this mutating virus man-made? Then how was it created and let loose in the world is a big question which a lot of researchers are thinking about," she said.
She recalled the contribution of the medical fraternity in the fight against coronavirus.
The TMC member said the government should tell when all people of the country will be able to get both doses of vaccine.
"When can we not complete the second dose which we were supposed to complete by December or January? Why have we not done it yet? Also, there is a suggestion by experts all over the world that people who are above the age of 65 and who have co-morbidities should be given booster doses. What is the policy of the Government regarding booster doses? What is the policy of this Government regarding inoculating or vaccinating the children or young adults as they are our future? she asked.
She said there was need to make people aware of the new variant.
"The vaccine, if two doses are given, definitely prevents severe disease and death. But mild disease will still occur and with the mild disease, there will be morbidity in the society. There may be an increased risk of reinfection with Omicron for people who have previously had COVID-19 with other variants. It is not that a person who has got COVID-19 before with delta or other variants will not be affected. They will also be affected by the disease. So, the vaccine remains critical to reduce the severe disease," she said.
"I am not saying that you do not help other countries. If we have excess, we will definitely help other countries," she added.
A few members referred to two cases of Omnicron variant detected in Karnataka.
BJP member Dr Kirit Premjibhai Solanki said the government is running the biggest COVID-19 vaccination programme in the world and inoculation is being boosted through programmes such as 'har ghar dastak'.
He referred to steps to increase the supply of ventilators, number of hospital beds and to Ayushman Bharat mission. He also said that vaccination reduces the impact of virus variants.
Other BJP members spoke about various other initiatives of the government including PM Garib Kalyan Yojana.
BJP's Tapir Gao said that there were concerns about the new variant of virus but the government will find a solution to the challenge.
NCP's Dr Amol Ramsing Kolhe said there was a need to provide RT-PCR testing at the block level and more facilities should be created for genome sequencing. (ANI)