Published: Published Date – 12:44 AM, Wed – 15 June 22

The sudden spurt in the new coronavirus cases in the country, the biggest jump since January, comes as a wake-up call for those who have dropped their guards and slipped into complacency in the battle against the pandemic. While there is no need to panic, the governments and the public, in general, must adhere to the basics to tame the virus. The latest spike is largely driven by the new sub-variants of the Covid-19 virus. The daily positivity rate is over 3% after nearly four months while the number of fatalities has crossed 5.24 lakh. However, hybrid immunity and precaution vaccines can neutralise the severity of the disease. States like Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Karnataka have been witnessing a surge in the number of new cases. The proportion of tests turning positive, too, has risen in many of these regions, suggesting the presence of an outbreak that is still growing. All major metros are witnessing a silent spike in the rate of hospitalisations. The overall statistics of daily infections across States don’t look good and it has compelled the governments to move in line with strict measures to avoid another deadly Covid wave. A strong set of precautions — mask discipline, booster doses, social distancing and genome sequencing — holds key to keeping the disease at bay. Genome surveillance helps the governments to keep the strongest of vigils on how the virus is mutating. In all likelihood, the virus will keep causing temporary spikes, but in case it mutates again to something more dangerous, the country needs to be prepared.

The Health Ministry has already asked the States to increase testing, enhance monitoring of influenza-like illnesses and severe acute respiratory infections, and send samples for genomic sequencing. Omicron sub-variants are known to spread faster than the Delta variant that caused the devastating second wave but they are also known to remain in the upper respiratory tract itself. What this means is that Omicron does not usually lead to pneumonia and a drop in oxygen saturation as was seen during the second wave. Because of this, ICU admissions, oxygen requirements and deaths were much less during the third wave. Most people died from Covid-19 that aggravated their pre-existing conditions and not due to it during the third wave. Almost all samples being sequenced are that of the BA.2 sub-variant of Omicron. Of late, there has been a general laxity in observing Covid-appropriate behaviour, particularly an increased complacency in not wearing masks, which is one of the reasons behind the increase. The immunity from a previous infection — caused by any of the variants of Covid-19 — and vaccination provide the best shield. But the protection is against severe disease rather than the infection. While waiting for the end of the pandemic, we need to follow Covid-appropriate behaviour including wearing masks.

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