COVID-19 | Experts say India may not see ‘substantial wave’ if there are no new variants developing in China

Proactive planning based on evidence from enhanced surveillance and genomic sequencing is needed, say experts

Updated - December 24, 2022 11:38 am IST

Published - December 23, 2022 10:07 pm IST - Bengaluru

People travelling between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu at Attibele check post. Virologist Gagandeep Kang says India is doing fine and will not require travel restrictions as of now.

People travelling between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu at Attibele check post. Virologist Gagandeep Kang says India is doing fine and will not require travel restrictions as of now. | Photo Credit: K. Murali Kumar

While there is some panic in India following a significant surge of COVID-19 cases in China, experts point out that India continues to show a sustained decreasing trajectory of cases in the last few months. It is unlikely to see a fresh “substantial wave” if there are no new variants in China as a result of ongoing circulation, they feel. However, experts caution that opportunities for mutation is higher when the virus circulation is high and there is a need to strengthen surveillance.

“There can be a wave only when a new variant emerges which India has not seen before,” said Giridhar R. Babu, Head of Lifecourse Epidemiology at the Public Health Foundation of India in Bengaluru, and member of Karnataka’s COVD-19 Technical Advisory Committee (TAC). “However, proactive planning based on evidence from enhanced surveillance and genomic sequencing is needed,” he added.

Dr. Babu said waves due to Omicron sub-variants were relatively mild in countries that witnessed earlier waves, like India. In contrast, China did not have waves after the first one.

In a series of tweets, virologist Gagandeep Kang on Friday said India is doing fine and will not require travel restrictions as of now. “The variants now circulating in China have been in the rest of the world for months. The behaviour of the virus is not any different from expected. In India as well, we already have XBB and BF.7 (the 2 being hyped as new monsters). They are, like all Omicron sub-variants, very good at infecting people because they escape the immune response that prevents infection, but are not causing more severe disease than Delta.”

‘No need to panic’

C.N. Manjunath, member of the State’s Clinical Experts Committee, said as there is already hybrid immunity in the community in India, we will have to wait and watch on how the situation will evolve in the next two to three months. “Being alert is fine but there is no need to panic and take aggressive measures as of now. The situation can be reviewed once in 10 days. The virus had never disappeared at any point in the last nine months and we have been getting sporadic cases. It is important for people, especially those with comorbidities, to mask up and get the booster dose,” he said.

“Even if there is a fresh surge, there should not be any problem as the disease is well understood and management strategy is streamlined unlike in the first and second waves,” he asserted.

Need for caution

TAC chairman M.K. Sudarshan said that although the local situation is very good, it is fertile for circulation of the virus. “We will have to observe how the BF.7 variant will behave in India. Even if there is a surge, we are unlikely to see a higher mortality. But, with huge international arrivals expected and in the light of year end and festive celebrations, we need to be extra cautious. All public social activities/events should be conducted outdoors or in well-ventilated areas and during the day time avoiding exposure to chill and cold weather,” he said. 

“It is advisable for people, especially the elderly and those with comorbidities, to get the booster shot, if they have not taken it yet. The BF.7 variant is known to be highly transmissible and a fresh surge may be more dangerous for this population,” he added.

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