‘XBB’ Covid variants unlikely to cause new wave, don’t create panic: Experts

New Delhi: The fresh spike in Covid cases is not an indication of a new wave, and there is no need to panic, health experts said on Monday.

India on Monday recorded a single-day rise of 918 new Covid cases in the past 24 hours pushing the active cases to 6,350, according to the Union Health Ministry data.

The highest Covid cases were reported from Kerala (1,796), followed by Maharashtra (1,308), Gujarat (740), Karnataka (616), Tamil Nadu (363), Telangana (237), and Delhi (209). The country also reported four Covid deaths — two in Rajasthan, and one each in Karnataka and Kerala.

“We believe that this is a change between the two seasons and we are seeing a spurt in the cases because of that. As soon as the summer sets in and the sweltering heat comes in, hopefully these cases will go down,” Dr Rahul Pandit, a member of the Covid task force and Chair, Critical Care, Sir H.N. Reliance Foundation Hospital, told IANS.

“Covid is now just like the flu or a common cold. There is no significant increase in hospitalisation, ICU admission or death rate,” added epidemiologist Dr. (Prof) Amitav Banerjee.

“Testing is not a good indicator as of today. It has become endemic. People carry so many germs in their throat, such that tests will always give you an increase in numbers. The numbers can just raise panic levels anytime,” Banerjee told IANS.

As per experts, the rise in Covid cases is happening most likely due to the Omicron offspin XBB 1.15 and XBB 1.16 variants.

A recent study published in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases showed that the XBB.1.5 has high transmissibility and infectivity. Researchers at the University of Tokyo in Japan found that an individual with the XBB.1.5 variant could infect 1.2 times more people in the population than someone with the parental XBB.1 variant.

They also said XBB.1.5 has the “potential to cause the next epidemic surge”.

However, the doctors stated that a surge is unlikely.

“Unlikely to say that this is the next surge. Most of the patients have got very very mild disease and they are recovering spontaneously by day five or day seven, they’re completely asymptomatic,” Pandit said.

“There is no indication of any surge by XBB lineages as it is causing no severe disease. Covid has already been like a flu for more than a year. After the second wave, we never had a wave which is more severe than a flu,” said Banerjee, who is also Professor and Head of Community Medicines, D.Y. Patil Medical College, Pune.

“We just keep counting and raising the panic levels. We need to stop merely counting the cases and see if there is any increase in hospital admission or deaths. We are just chasing the common cold virus,” he added.

Meanwhile, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in its recent study said that Covid-19 vaccines and boosters are effective against the highly transmissible sub-lineages of Omicron — XBB and its subvariant XBB.1.5.

The latest CDC study found that, despite the mismatch in variants, the booster remains protective against XBB.

Banerjee informed that about 80-90 per cent of the Indian population have natural infection; and that “it is better or as good if not better than vaccines”.

Pandit urged for the need to continue “doing the genomic sequencing to understand if there are any clusters with new variantsa, and “keep a close eye on people who are at high risk — elderly and those on immunosuppressive therapy”.


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