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Fear of winter wave, India keeps strict surveillance on new Omicron sub-variants


NEW DELHI: As India detected four new sub-lineages, which are slowly spreading to different parts of the country, especially Maharashtra, triggering fear of a winter wave riding on festival season, authorities said they are keeping a close watch on clinical and epidemiological behaviour of the new Omicron sub-variants.

“We got to know about the new Omicron sub-lineages two weeks back. We are watching their clinical and epidemiological behaviour,” Dr N K Arora, head of the Covid-19 Working Group of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) told The New Indian Express.

He said close watch is also being kept on these new sub-variants to ensure that there is no increase in hospitalisation, sudden localised outbreak or increase in cases or any particular susceptibility in people like the elderly, children or those with comorbidity. 

He said the emergence of the new sub-variants - BF.7, BQ.1, XBB and BA.2.3.20 - clearly shows that Covid is with us. 

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Dr Arora said in India, BA.2.75 is still dominant but is seeing the emergence of new sub-variants, causing a surge in Covid cases in China, Singapore and European countries. “They have been picked up in India also. There is no virus at the moment in India which is not present elsewhere in the world,” said Dr Arora, co-chair of the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG).

“We know it will spread, but will not create a huge impact as most people have hybrid immunity,” he said on whether there could be a winter Covid wave.

A recent article in Nature, said new immune-evading strains of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, behaviour changes and waning immunity mean many countries could soon see large numbers of Covid-19 infections - and potentially of hospitalisations.

Dr Pragya Yadav, a senior scientist at the Indian Institute of Medical Research (ICMR)-National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune, said the onset of winters had witnessed the emergence of Variants of Concern (VOC) globally, and India is no exception.

“There is fear as all the VOCs have emerged after September. Whether it was Alpha, Beta, Delta, or Omicron,” she told TNIE. “Now, we are amid the festival season, and winters are setting in, so it would be wise for people to take some precautionary measures and avoid crowds.”

That was the worry which drove Maharashtra to sound an alarm. Dr Pradip Awate, State Surveillance Officer, Integrated Disease Surveillance Program, Maharashtra, “We had to sound an alarm in this background as we wanted to be cautious about the new sub-variants. Some areas in Maharashtra like Raigad, Thane and Mumbai are showing some rise in Covid cases,” he told TNIE. 

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Not only Maharashtra but Kerala and Delhi are showing a slight rise in Covid cases, said NC Krishnaprasad, a Covid data analyst from Kerala. “A week after Diwali will give us a clear picture of the intensity of this upward trend, and the second week will cement it (if it is going upward),” he added.

During festivals and significant holidays, there will not only be a spike in cases but also more significant chances of newer variants appearing, added Dr Rajeev Jayadevan, co-chairman of the National Indian Medical Association (IMA) Covid-19 task force. “There is no guarantee that the next variant will cause the same relatively mild disease that Omicron caused.”

However, Gautam Menon, Professor of Physics and Biology at Ashoka University, said what is relevant is whether the new sub-lineages have a transmission advantage over the existing virus strains and whether they will lead to more severe disease. (THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS)

37 Days ago