Explained: What’s driving Covid surge in India

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Newer Omicron strains, waning immunity, and breakthrough infections among vaccinated are the major reasons for the current Covid peak seen in India, including the national capital, said doctors on Friday.

According to the Union Health Ministry data update on Friday, India recorded 17,336 new Covid-19 infections and 13 new deaths in the last 24 hours. The active caseload stands at 88,284.

With 1,934 cases, infection numbers in national capital Delhi doubled in the last 24 hours. In Karnataka, 858 fresh cases and one death occurred on Thursday. Maharashtra accounted for the highest number of Covid-19 cases at 5,218, with daily cases jumping by 60 per cent compared to the previous day.

States like Kerala, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, and Gujarat are reporting more than 1,000 cases daily.

“The cases are rising because of Omicron and its sub-variants as there are several sub-lineages of the circulating virus. The most circulating subvariant at the moment are of BA.2, and there are a few cases of BA.4 and BA.5. Though they are just the sub-variants, they also have their sub-lineages,” Dr. Akshay Budhraja, Senior Consultant, Respiratory & Sleep Medicine, Aakash Healthcare Dwarka, told IANS.

“It is important to know that those who are vaccinated are not 100 per cent protected against the virus as our immunity begins to wane after six months… vaccinated people also have the probability of getting re-infected,” he added.

Budhraja said the mass vaccination is protecting people against developing any severe complications – the reason why most people are only suffering from upper respiratory symptoms, not lower respiratory symptoms like Covid pneumonia, and hospitalisation is also low at the moment.

However, in some states including Delhi, and Maharashtra, there has been a marginal increase in Covid-related hospitalisation.

According to Dr Ankita Baidya, Consultant – Infectious Diseases, HCMCT Manipal Hospitals, Dwarka, “a smaller number of Covid patients are coming with lung” conditions.

However, Dr Neha Gupta, Consultant, Infectious Disease, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram, said patients are presenting more severe symptoms than during the earlier Omicron wave in January.

“During this wave, we have seen patients having moderate-severe Covid-19 which is a little more in severity as compared to the Omicron variant,” Gupta told IANS.

An analysis by the country’s Covid genome sequencing facility Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) reports that Omicron BA.2 sub-variant was detected in over 83 per cent of the samples sequenced in May and June, media reports said.

While the percentage of BA.1, BA.3, BA.4 and BA.5 has been found in less than 10 per cent samples, Omicron and its sub-lineages have been the dominant circulating variant in India from January 2022. In May, the proportion of Omicron sublineages BA.2.12.2, BA.1.1.529, BA.3, BA.4, BA.5 increased, the report said.

So can we say that a fourth wave of Covid has hit India?

This is not a fourth wave, said Budhraja, “but Covid spikes which may differ in timing in different parts of India. Fourth wave can only occur if there is presence of a new variant altogether, not just a different subvariant”.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry has directed officials to continue to focus on surveillance and whole genome sequencing to scan any possible mutations while stressing on adequate testing and effective monitoring to assess the spread of Covid-19 in a timely manner.

“Sequencing is a highly resource-heavy and time-consuming process. That being said, sequencing is essential to understand the direction in which the virus evolves. However, sequencing is not essential to diagnose or treat Covid 19. Hence resource allocation is better made towards vaccination, awareness and prevention and treatment,” Dr Pavithra Venkatagopalan, Director, Covid Task Force, Awareness, Rotary Club of Madras Next Gen, told IANS.

She emphasised the need for “aggressive vaccination for everyone”.

(Rachel V Thomas can be contacted at rachel.t@ians.in)

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