India began a two-day COVID preparedness mock drill on April 10, amid the continuing surge in cases. A senior Health Ministry official said the drill was aimed at reviewing and ensuring proper arrangements for testing and treatment of patients.
Mock drills were conducted at all major government and private hospitals across Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, and Mumbai. Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya visited the Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) Hospital in Delhi to review the mock drill there. During the meeting, Dr. Mandaviya said hospitals should ensure quality clinical practices, measures for infection control, hospital management, sanitation processes and patient-centric provisions.
“Huge response was seen nationwide, where Ministers and senior officials reviewed the preparations and capacities of hospitals and facilities,’’ said a release issued by the Ministry.
The Health Ministry said that the spike in cases witnessed recently could be attributed to the newly emerged recombinant coronavirus variant XBB.1.16. India has now reported mutation in this variant and detection of its offshoot subtype — XBB.1.16.1 — of which over 100 cases have been reported in various parts of the country, including Gujarat and Maharashtra.
XBB is an Omicron sub-lineage and it is the most prevalent currently among the Omicron variants. As many as 400 new sub-variants of Omicron have been identified in India in the last 15 months. Of these, 90% of all variants are XBB.
Indian biologist Vinod Scaria explained that XBB.1.16 is spreading and evolving. “It is expected when a variant spreads, new mutations come up. But nothing at the moment seems to associate the mutation with severity. Mutations come up during replication of the virus in the cells and more infections would mean more mutations,’’ Dr. Scaria said.
Dr. Scaria added that mutations are typically random events, but any mutation which gives an advantage to the virus in transmission or immune escape tends to spread further better.
Go for booster: IMA
The Indian Medical Association (IMA), in its release issued on April 10, recommended COVID-19 vaccination and booster dose, while stating that there is no role for antibiotics and absolutely no evidence that regularly rinsing the nose/throat with saline/antiseptic has protected people from coronavirus.
It said the current surge in cases could be attributed to the relaxation in COVID appropriate behaviour. “Many people lowered their guard against coronavirus, and the low rate of testing could be the driving force behind the surge,’’ said the association.
It also said that people with symptoms refused to get tested which may have allowed the virus to spread undetected and infect more people. “People in high-risk groups — pregnant ladies, those over the age of 60, those with chronic illnesses, and those with underlying health conditions, immunocompromised — face increased risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19.
“We need to protect them. Rising cases reflect that COVID has not gone, it is still around, and so we need to take precautions. COVID-19 is spreading in our community,’’ said the association adding that those with symptoms including fever, cough, sore throat, headache should get tested for COVID.