Experts watch China situation, say India won’t be hit by new Covid variant

Express News Service

BENGALURU: Omicron’s BA2.2 variant is creating havoc in China, but experts from the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) who are closely watching it, opine that India is safe. There may be no reason to panic until a new variant comes along which behaves very differently from Omicron, which triggered the third wave, they say.

While there are reports that a mutated version of Omicron’s BA.2 sub-lineage, called BA2.2, has been found in some parts of China, experts in India say the characteristics of BA.2 and BA2.2 appear similar, and there is no change in the clinical symptoms of the sub-lineage. “India was already dominated by the BA.2 variant, as were Karnataka’s third wave cases. With a high level of vaccination and infection combination, there is no reason for the state to worry. However, this virus tends to throw surprises, so wearing of masks, following Covid-appropriate behaviour and ensuring maximum vaccination with both doses and a precautionary dose is the key,” Dr V Ravi, nodal officer, Nimhans, INSACOG, told TNIE.

Several experts said India doesn’t have to worry unless a new variant with characteristics different from Omicron, arrives. However, Dr Jacob John, former professor at CMC Vellore, and renowned virologist, says the chance of another variant in India is highly unlikely. He explains that China’s “zero-Covid” strategy, which uses mass testing and lockdowns to crush any hint of an outbreak, may not have worked with Omicron.

“Omicron’s BA.1 and BA.2 lineages have infected a majority of India’s population and our vaccination coverage has been very good. With infection-vaccination combined immunity, there is very little chance of another variant coming in. We have already crossed the river. Mutations happen when immunity is low and the spread is fast,” Dr John says.

However, experts warn that the country should focus on being vigilant and sequencing should not stop. Dr Giridhara R Babu, epidemiologist and public health expert, tweeted on Tuesday, “Two highest priorities have not been addressed so far. Repeating myself again. Vaccination helps, not the end game in itself. Diverting all resources only to vaccines wont help. A global COVID19 control program is quintessential. A revised case definition should be part of this.”