Chennai: Driven by the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, Chennai recorded an all-time high of 8,963 Covid-19 cases on Friday since the pandemic began, health department data shows.
Chennai reported 7,564 cases on a single day during the second wave on May 12 last year, which the city surpassed on Thursday with 8,218 cases.
Tamil Nadu reported 23,459 Covid cases on Friday against 20,911 on Thursday. Active Covid cases have also mounted. On January 1, the state had 8,340 active cases and the number of people carrying the virus spiked to 118,017 on Friday, according to the health department bulletin.
Health secretary J Radhakrishnan, referring to estimates by epidemiologists, said the cases will begin to decline in the state in another two weeks. “We had 5,907 cases on December 27. Despite us taking several precautionary measures, the cases have spread rapidly. Tamil Nadu crossed 20,000 new cases yesterday,” said Radhakrishnan. “It is likely to increase especially after the Pongal festival and the opinion of experts is that it will come down in another two weeks.”
However, out of over 100,000 active cases, only 7,629 patients are under hospital treatment, including 608 in the ICUs of government hospitals, according to the health department data. This is vastly different from the scenario compared to the second wave when hospitalisations were high and patients were being treated outside hospitals in parking lots due to shortage of beds. On May 12 last year, 12,624 people were in hospitals, including 1,935 in ICUs.
As of Thursday, 64% of the eligible people in Tamil Nadu have been fully vaccinated lessening the complications brought by SARS-CoV-2 and reducing deaths, say experts.
Dr K Kolandaswamy, retired director of Tamil Nadu’s public health who is in a committee formed during the second wave to advise the state government on preparing for the third wave, said that a majority of those infected currently can be managed at home. “So we will not see a problem in government hospitals this time,” he said. “Government facilities are especially better placed this time. Most of our recommendations following the second have to strengthen labs, increase oxygen beds and add ambulances have been accomplished.”
Experts say that the Omicron variant of concern detected in November is the cause of the exponential rise in cases. Out of the 241 Omicron cases in Tamil Nadu, 144 are from Chennai – all of them have been discharged.
Chennai with the most number of cases is showing double the positivity rate compared to that of overall Tami Nadu. The city’s test positivity rate has surged from 3.3% on January 1 to 21.9%, which is twice the state average of 11.5%. Closer to Chennai, infections are rising in its adjoining district Chengalpattu, which also has a high positivity rate of 21.1% with 2,504 new cases on Friday. The wide difference in the number of daily cases between Chennai and Chengalpattu shows that health authorities are carrying out targeted testing. On January 12, Chennai tested 33,673 samples out of which 7,372 returned positive while Chengalpattu tested 8,725 samples out of which 1,840 people were found to have been infected.
“We know Omicron spreads faster than the previous variants so the pattern in Chennai is not surprising but expected. The rate of growth of cases is already slowing down in Chennai though that’s not the case with whole numbers,” said Dr Prabhdeep Kaur, deputy director, National Institute of Epidemiology. “But I do see cases declining in Chennai in another 7 to 10 days and after that our focus has to be on the districts. Especially when several people have gone back home to the districts for Pongal.”