While India is battling a rise in Influenza cases, a sudden spurt in the number of Covid-19 infections is being seen across the country.
India, on Thursday, 30 March, saw a single-day rise of 3,016 fresh Covid-19 cases. This was a jump of almost 40 percent since Wednesday, and the highest in nearly six months.
Some states, including the southern ones — specifically Kerala and Karnataka — have been witnessing an increase in positivity rates as well.
So, are we in the midst of a wave?
South First spoke to a few experts to understand the extent to which this increase in cases was concerning.
‘An increase every few months’
“This is how the Covid-19 virus will continue to behave. Every few months, there will be an increase in the number of cases,” explained Dr V Ravi, a noted virologist and a member of the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) from Bengaluru.
“We are definitely seeing an increase in cases and this will continue to be seen in a few states,” he added.
“Weather changes and the presence of several flu viruses will make people fall sick, leading to an increase in reporting of cases,” explained Ravi.
“However, what we are seeing is the same lineage from the Omicron family.”
Kerala reports most active cases in India
The XBB.1.16 subvariant of Omicron is suspected to be the one driving the new surge in cases.
Reviewing the Covid-19 situation, the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday told reporters that it was monitoring XBB.1.16 in India.
“We are monitoring it because it has the potential changes that we need to keep a good eye out on,” said WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove.
She said XBB.1.16 had replaced the other variants in circulation, and hence needed to be watched.
The number of infections has definitely gone up with this variant in circulation.
For instance, Kerala logged 765 fresh Covid-19 cases on Thursday as opposed to 512 cases on Wednesday and an alert has been issued in all districts.
This has been the highest number of cases reported in the last six months. The total number of active cases in the state has now reached 3,389, which is the highest in the country.
Meanwhile, statistics show that another state in South India has crossed 1,000 active cases: Karnataka.
On Thursday. the state recorded 288 fresh Covid-19 cases, as opposed to 215 on Wednesday.
The total number of active cases on Thursday was 1,037, with the majority being from Bengaluru Urban and Shivamogga districts — 487 and 166, respectively.
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Are we in the midst of a ‘wave’?
Experts are divided over the term “wave” when it comes to a periodic rise in the number of cases of a particular disease.
While some of them believe that the rise in Covid-19 case numbers in several states is an indication of a “mild wave”, a few say this is just a surge in cases and cannot really call it a wave.
Dr Rajeev Jayadevan, co-chairman of the Indian Medical Association’s Covid Task Force in Kerala, opined: “In the current situation, we don’t know the heights of the wave. However, there is definitely a wave throughout India. Whether this will continue to be a large wave or not, we do not know.”
He added that this wave, however, was unlikely to exceed the initial Omicron wave which was in India in January-February 2022.
He explained, “We have had Omicron circulate in our country in the form of multiple sublineages — BA.2, followed by BA 2.75, followed by XBB. Therefore, the present XBB.1.16 is unlikely to overshadow its predecessors. This would have not been the case if we were dealing with a new variant.”
However, Dr Ravi said that though there was a noticeable surge, it could not be called a “wave”.
This, he said, was an indication and reminder that Covid-19 is here to stay for a few more years.
“While there is no reason to panic, people need to be vigilant, follow Covid-19-appropriate behaviour, and get vaccinated,” said Ravi.
“State governments should continue to test more and also ensure that genomic, clinical, and waste-water surveillance is continuously happening to track any changes and the occurrence of new variants,” he added.
Noted Karnataka-based epidemiologist Dr Giridhara Babu R said that without an increase in hospitalisation, we cannot term the surge in cases as a wave.
Cause for concern?
Van Kerkhove told reporters that the new XBB subvariant had been circulating in India for a few months, but doesn’t appear to cause more severe disease.
She stressed that the WHO had not seen a change in its severity in individuals or in populations, but it was important to track the variant.
“The subvariant has one additional mutation in the spike protein, which in lab studies shows increased infectivity as well as potential increased pathogenicity,” said Van Kerkhove.
She also said that it was just one of more than 600 Omicron subvariants the WHO had been tracking.
However, Van Kerkhove also said WHO’s concern was the potential ability of this virus to change to become not only more transmissible but more severe, and hence it was important to remain vigilant.
Jayadevan concurred. He said that there had not been an increase in hospitalisations or even deaths.
‘Continue appropriate behaviour’
While advocating continuing Covid-19 appropriate behaviour and compulsory masking up when in crowded areas, the experts said that the immunocompromised, elderly, and those with comorbidities should be careful. They will be more prone to infection.
Those suffering from diabetes, kidney disorders, HIV, and cancer, and even the immunocompromised should compulsorily mask up when in crowded areas — or even avoid going in crowded places.
“We now know the drill. It is the same Covid-19 appropriate behaviour, and when symptoms of cough, cold, and fever occur, a Covid-19 test should be done to rule out the infection,” said Ravi.