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Need for genetic testing to tackle Omicron: Apollo Hospitals

There is an emergence of a new variant of Coronavirus from South Africa, called Omicron. WHO has named it a ‘variant of concern’. Typically, a variant of concern is the WHO’s top category of worrying COVID-19 variants.

To discuss this and the outlook, CNBC-TV18 spoke to Suneeta Reddy, MD at Apollo Hospitals.

On the new variant, Reddy said, “Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan sent out a letter yesterday and we are here to cooperate with the government. What the government has suggested and very rightly so, is that we quickly ramp up the vaccination numbers. As you know, 63 percent of India has had a single dose of the vaccine, I think the intent is to ramp up vaccination.”

She further mentioned, “There is also an increase in the number of tests that should be done. More importantly, we would do RT-PCR tests earlier. Now we have recognised the need to do a genetic test following this, and all of this will be sent to the government lab to verify whether this is really the Omicron, which is the variant that people are now concerned about.”
She added, “So the Omicron is really very different. It has 32 mutant spikes and therefore it makes it more contagious than the other COVID viruses that we have seen. I think the government’s intention to identify it early is very important.”

“Also, communication about not having large gatherings, maintaining social distancing, wearing masks, and testing continuously is what we have received. They have also told us to keep hospital beds ready. At Apollo, we have always done that. There have been 5 percent of our beds dedicated for corona, right now the utilisation is extremely low, but we are prepared,” she said.

On booster shots, Reddy said, “I think vaccination is clearly the centre of the strategy. As I said, 60 percent of India has had a single dose, and about half that number has had two doses. So I am hopeful that the government will continue to accelerate the vaccination right and consider by end of December maybe a booster dose for those that have taken it in January or February.”

She added, “We are hopeful that the government will consider something by the end of December for the vulnerable people, people at risk, or frontline healthcare workers because these are the people that have a larger exposure to the virus.”

There have been talks of Amazon striking a strategic alliance with Apollo HealthCo, Apollo Hospitals’ digital pharmacy arm. The move may precede investments by PE funds in Apollo HealthCo.
When asked about the alliance, Reddy said, “Governance does not allow me to share the details till our board has finalised it. So allow us this month, hopefully we will get back to you on what is our strategy for 24/7 to take it forward.”

She also added, “There is a pedigree of investors that add value to this space. Definitely those investors are the ones that we are looking at. I think more importantly, we are looking at partnerships that will aid the growth of 24/7.” CNBCTV18

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