RACHEL V. THOMAS
New Delhi, April 3 (IANS) While India has seen the sharpest rise in Covid cases since the third wave in January 2022, experts on Monday opined that the current surge in infections is only “mild” but a “cause for concern” too.
India on Monday reported 3,641 infections, according to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. On Saturday, it reported 3,824 new Covid-19 infections — the biggest single-day rise in about 184 days.
Last week, the country had seen a surge with 18,450 fresh cases, a substantial rise from the previous week’s 8,781 cases.
The Omicron variant XBB.1.16 is believed to be behind the sudden surge of the cases.
“The new variant along with other factors, which include a decrease in Covid appropriate behaviour and a change in weather — makes us more susceptible to respiratory conditions. We might see a mild wave happening, but by and large it will be mild and cause mild disease, not severe and not really result in hospitalisations,” Dr Randeep Guleria – Chairman, Institute of Internal Medicine and Respiratory & Sleep Medicine and Director-Medical Education, Medanta, told IANS.
“With the introduction of every new variant, there could be a transient surge in the number of cases. The current scenario is another such surge. While we dont expect another wave, however, we need to be careful and vigilant in monitoring the variants, mutations, and trends in the number of cases,” added Dr Rohit Kumar Garg, Consultant, Department of Infectious Diseases, Amrita Hospital, Faridabad.
Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead for the Covid response at the World Health Organisation (WHO), recently said that there are about 800 sequences of Omicron variant XBB.1.16 from 22 countries. Most of the sequences are from India and in India XBB.1.16 has replaced the other variants that are in circulation.
Van Kerkhove said that XBB.1.16 has a similar profile to XBB.1.5, but has additional changes in the spike protein.
In lab studies, XBB.1.16 has shown signs of increased infectivity as well as potentially increased pathogenicity, she added.
“XBB.1.16 is a sublineage of the Omicron variant. The genomic sequence data indicates that XBB 1.16 has few additional spike mutations. As reported, this new variant is similar to other variants with respect to mode of transmission, route of infection, and clinical manifestations. As of now, the available data suggests a mild nature of illness in the majority of the patients,” Garg said.
“However, the situation is cause for concern and to step up our Covid appropriate behaviour strategies,” he noted.
Guleria said that XBB.1.16 “is possibly more infectious but current data does not suggest that it is more virulent and causes more severe infection”.
Garg noted that with the evolution of the pandemic so far and the mutating nature of this virus it seems logical to state the virus is going to stay.
While the additional mutations on XBB.1.16 have impacted its transmissibility, “immune evasiveness is yet to be seen”. Further, considering the mutating nature of this virus, “we can expect small outbreaks in future also”.
In such a scenario, “everyone must take a third dose, particularly patients at high risk of severe diseases. The available vaccines are safe and protect us against severe disease,” Garg told IANS.
Garg also called for increasing awareness about use of masks, among other preventive strategies.
“In my opinion, the use of masks should be recommended to all symptomatic (respiratory tract infections) patients, individuals with risk factors for severe disease and their close contacts, particularly in closed crowded settings,” Garg said.
(Rachel V. Thomas can be contacted at email@example.com)
Is India seeing another Covid wave?
RACHEL V. THOMAS