The new year has brought with it a surge of new COVID-19 cases due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. Three times as transmissible as the previous Delta variant according to reports from the World Health Organization, the variant has already cropped up in 26 Indian states. In the wake of this new stage of the pandemic, protecting ourselves has never been more crucial, especially because those who have been vaccinated or previously infected can also get infected.
“CAB (COVID appropriate behaviour) is meaningful as a social vaccine in view of the rapid transmission of Omicron”, says Dr M.S. Kanwar, Senior Consultant of Respiratory Medicine and leader of the COVID team, Department of Pulmonology, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals. “Omicron is also capable of infecting Delta variant survivors, so take all the precautions.” Here are all of the important precautions that you need to follow to keep yourself safe.
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- Keep your mask on
Whether it is to work or a quick run to your local grocery store, do not forget to take your mask with you. Wearing a cloth mask alone is ineffective to give you good protection against the virus, so layer your cloth masks over a surgical mask. For best results, use N95, KN95 or KF94 masks. Pay attention to the fit of your mask: when the ear loops start getting loose or the fit starts to degrade, it might be time to switch it out. Remember to always keep your mask on in crowded indoor spaces, and around people who are not members of your household.
- Maintain your distance
Although it can be hard to forget with many public spaces remaining open, social distancing is just as important now as it was at the beginning of the pandemic. While some states in India are going into partial lockdown, you have to do your part to limit the spread of the virus. Avoid closed and crowded spaces, and cancel or postpone any social gatherings. Maintain at least a six-feet distance from others when outdoors. Try to work from home if possible, and check up on your loved ones through video and phone calls rather than in person.
- Stay up-to-date with your vaccines
Currently available vaccinations still offer high levels of protection against severe symptoms from this new variant, suggests preliminary evidence from the WHO. “Fully vaccinated individuals and those who reinforce their immunity through booster shots are far less likely to develop severe disease,” says Dr Kanwar. Make sure you and your loved ones are fully vaccinated if you are eligible for it. Vaccinations for children between 15 and 18 years have started from 3 January 2022. From 10 January, 2022, booster or precaution doses will begin for healthcare and frontline workers. Booster shots will also be available from the same date for people who are 60+ years and immunocompromised, as per their doctor's advice.
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- Give a natural boost to your immune system
Keeping your body's natural defenses as strong as possible is one of the ways in which you can reduce the severity of the disease in case you get infected. Eating a healthy and balanced diet, sleeping for sufficient hours, exercising regularly and reducing your day-to-day stress can all contribute to the healthy functioning of your body. Gargling regularly with commercially available antiseptic formulas and mouthwashes also reduces the risk of viral transmission, says a study published in Science Reports in 2021.
- Know when to isolate yourself
Knowing when to isolate yourself from others will help you prevent spreading the virus further. According to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, you need to self-quarantine or isolate if:
- You are living in the same household as a COVID-19 patient
- You have had direct physical contact with a COVID-19 patient or his/her infectious secretions without recommended personal protective equipment (PPE) or with a possible breach of PPE
- You shared a closed environment or had face-to-face contact with a COVID-19 patient at a distance of within one metre including air travel.
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