Can New Variant XBB.1.16 Drive A Fresh Wave Of Covid-19? Ex-AIIMS Head Answers

India on Wednesday recorded 1,134 new coronavirus cases, the highest in 138 days.

Can New Variant XBB.1.16 Drive A Fresh Wave Of Covid-19? Ex-AIIMS Head Answers

New Delhi: Amid a spurt in the number of Covid-19 infections in India, former AIIMS director Dr Randeep Guleria on Wednesday (March 22, 2023) said that the new XBB.1.16 variant could be driving the recent rise. He, however, emphasised there was no need for panic as long it does not cause severe illness and deaths. New variants will keep coming as the virus keeps on mutating over time and the XBB 1.16 is sort of a "new kid on the block", Guleria told news agency PTI in an interview.

"As long as they don't lead to severe illness, hospitalisation, and deaths, it is alright because it helps in giving some degree of immunity to the population if they have a mild illness," Guleria, who was also part of the national Covid-19 task force, said.

He said that the virus evolves over time, and this happens both with Covid-19 and influenza, and this is what is called antigenic drift.

It will gradually evolve, mutate a little bit and new variants will emerge, he added.

"If we remember when we had the Covid-19 outbreak, it started off with Alpha, Beta, Gamma Delta, and Omicron variants... So the virus kept on changing. Luckily, if we look at what has happened in the last one year, we have got variants that are basically sub-lineages of Omicron only. So it seems the virus has stabilized a little bit, it is not changing as rapidly as it was in the past," Dr Guleria said.

On whether XBB 1.16 has the potential to drive a fresh wave of cases in the next few days, he said, "You may see a surge in the number of cases" but then they may be underreported as initially people were very concerned and would get themselves tested.

"Now even if they have flu-like symptoms, most people don't get themselves tested. Some use the rapid antigen test, and even if they are positive they do not report it. So the number we are actually reporting may be less than the actual number in the community," he said.

Dr Guleria advised that those who test positive must report the data because that helps policy makers and the government to actually to know the number of cases and take a decision and plan a strategy.

"So even if we see a surge, there is no need to worry, as long it does not translate into hospitalization and deaths it is alright," he said.

He said there is a need for active surveillance both at hospital and community levels to find out whether there is an increase in the number of cases and hospital admissions so that containment strategies and other public health measures can be implemented on time.

Covid cases in India

India on Wednesday recorded 1,134 new coronavirus cases, the highest in 138 days.

While the active cases across the country increased to 7,026, the death toll climbed to 5,30,813 with five deaths.

PM Modi holds high-level meeting on Covid-19, H3N2 situation

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday chaired a high-level meeting to assess the Covid-19 and Influenza situation in the country in terms of preparedness of health infrastructure and logistics, the status of the vaccination campaign, the emergence of new coronavirus variants and Influenza types and their public health implications for the country. 

He directed officials to enhance the Whole Genome Sequencing of Positive Samples with the designated INSACOG Genome Sequencing Laboratories.

This will support tracking of newer variants if any, and timely response, he said.

PM Modi also emphasized Covid-19 appropriate behaviour including wearing of masks on hospital premises by patients, health professionals, and health workers.

He also stressed that wearing of masks is advisable when senior citizens and those with co-morbidities visit crowded areas.

Covid-19 pandemic 'far from over': PM Modi

Prime Minister Modi directed officials that effective monitoring of IRI/SARI cases, and testing for Influenza, SARS-CoV-2, and Adenovirus be followed up with States. 

He also stressed the need to ensure the availability of required Drugs and Logistics for Influenza and Covid-19 across health facilities along with the availability of sufficient beds and health human resources.

He highlighted that the Covid-19 pandemic is far from over and there is a need to monitor the status across the country on regular basis. 

PM Modi also advised to continue focusing on the 5-fold strategy of Test-Track-Treat-Vaccination and Covid Appropriate Behaviour, enhance Lab Surveillance, and testing of all Severe Acute Respiratory Illness (SARI) cases. 

Mock drills should be conducted regularly to ensure that our hospitals are ready for all exigencies, he said.

The high-level review meeting came in the backdrop of a spike in Influenza cases in the country and a rise in Covid-19 cases in the past two weeks.

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