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WHO says new Omicron sub-variant detected in India

A buzz has been created across the world over a new sub-variant of the Covid-19 virus. On Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that India was among other countries where a new sub-lineage of BA.2.75 has been detected.

In a video posted on Twitter, WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said there has been an emergence of a sub-variant that is being called the BA.2.75 — first reported from India and then from about 10 other countries.

Rising Covid-19 cases
WHO experts said that “in Europe and America, BA.4 and BA.5 are driving waves”. India is also witnessing an exponential rise in Covid-19 cases. As per the trend in June 2022, the country crossed the 7,000 mark on June 9, the 8,000 mark on June 11, the 12,000 mark on June 16, the 13,000 mark on June 18, the 17,000 mark on June 24, and the 18,000 mark on June 30.

Amid the emergence of a new Covid-19 sub-variant, a question arises — Is the new BA.2.75 lineage responsible for the recent surge in coronavirus cases in India? or how severe is the virus?

‘Too early to reach any conclusion’
Swaminathan said: “It is still early to know if this sub-variant has properties of additional immune invasion or, indeed of, being more clinically severe, we don’t know that.” She said the WHO was tracking the variant.

Chandrakant Lahariya, a leading public health and policy expert, said, “I don’t see the reason for it to transform into a new variant. Omicron is the only variant circulating…and the evidence is not enough to reach any conclusion.”

“Coronavirus is one virus with highest rate of patients… the virus mutates and no one is surprised by this new variant…There will be mutations” — Chandrakant Lahariya.

Meanwhile, Sabine Kapasi, a governance strategy lead and a supply chain procurement head at MSF UN, said the spike in daily Covid-19 cases might be a reaction to the emergence of the new lineage, but it is not the primary reason.

“The primary reason (for the surge in infection) is the social behaviour,” she said, adding that people continue to attend mass social gatherings and so, there are chances of them getting infected. She said the virus is also evolving slowly and steadily and “we are the viral host… therefore, the development of the new variant is bound to happen.”

“This is about the evolution. We are their (virus) atmosphere and their ecosystem and so they are evolving accordingly” — Sabine Kapasi.

At what stage does one need to be alarmed?
Lahariya said three things need to be focused on here.

“First, with new mutation, one should see if there are clustering cases in the area. Second, (experts should focus on) clinically correlating mutation/sub-variants. One must check for evidence whether this is resulting into a more severe factor. Third, (one must keep in mind that) in a population where 90 percent are vaccinated or are already infected with Covid-19, any new infection can happen… we cannot conclude in one go.”

Kapasi listed some other factors, saying that one needs to be cautious about how severe is the morbidity. Second, she said, symptom tracking is also important. “If there’s a shift in minor symptoms, there must have been a major shift in the virus as well…Initially there were some common symptoms and suddenly there were neurological symptoms…that is the reason which is very problematic,” she said.

Citing other factors, Kapasi said the situation seems to be alarming when “suddenly you see a rise in hospitalisation” and a rise in severity of the infection. “Third is mortality. At this point, it’s not possible to control the infection itself. What is possible is to control the morbidity and mortality,” she said.

On Thursday, India recorded 18,930 fresh infections, the highest single-day spike in 137 days. The overall caseload mounted to 4,35,66,739, as per the data released by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on Thursday. The daily positivity rate touched 4.32 percent and the highest daily test positivity rate was recorded in Mizoram at 23.05 percent, the ministry said.
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