As countries battle new surge of Covid: Experts believe a fourth wave seems unlikely in India
A new variant is unlikely to emerge from India at the moment as the number of infections has come down dramatically and there is a great deal of immunity in the population through prior infections and vaccines
Mumbai: Despite several countries witnessing a surge of Covid-19 cases, experts in India said that a fourth wave seems unlikely here unless a new, immune-escaping variant comes to the fore. A new variant, experts believe, is also unlikely to emerge from India, as the overall viral activity in the country has reduced drastically.
On Monday, India recorded 2503 new Covid cases, the lowest single-day rise in nearly two years. Cities like Mumbai have been recording daily cases in two digits and the fatalities have been zero for many days. On Tuesday, for instance, Mumbai recorded 50 cases and no deaths.
Vellore-based virologist Dr T Jacob John said that India has nothing to worry about, even as many countries experience a surge. “Countries like China had aggressive testing and quarantine measures in place, which prevented the spread of the previous variants to a large extent. But it’s difficult to stop Omicron, and this is why many countries are now going through a surge,” he said.
John said that India must remain vigilant, and continuously keep looking for newer variants, if any. “All activities should be resumed back to normalcy. If there is one mandate that can be retained, it should be the mask mandate, as one does not lose anything with it,” he said.
Sandeep Juneja, senior professor at the school of technology and computer science at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai shared, “A new variant may arise from places or countries where the disease is still spreading rampantly, thus the probability of dangerous mutations arising need not be small.”
Juneja further informed, “A new variant is unlikely to emerge from India at the moment as the number of infections has come down dramatically and there is a great deal of immunity in the population through prior infections and vaccines. For Mumbai too, the fourth wave seems unlikely unless a new variant that can escape the prevalent immunity comes to the fore. The city has opened up, we can see many people without masks, yet the number of cases has been low. It tells us that the circulation of the virus has reduced, and factors like vaccination and immunity through infections, have also played a role in it,” said Juneja.
Countries like Germany, South Korea, Vietnam and Thailand are among those that are currently experiencing a surge in cases. On Tuesday, China reported over 5200 new cases in a span of 24 hours, its biggest surge since the pandemic began. The country has introduced several lockdown measures to curb the transmission, which is said to be fuelled by a ‘stealth’ sub-variant of Omicron- BA.2.
Omicron is made up of several sub-lineages. Of them, the most common ones are BA.1, BA.1.1 and BA.2. Early in March, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that, globally, the proportion of reported sequences designated BA.2 has been increasing relative to BA.1, and that initial data has suggested that BA.2 appears to be inherently more transmissible.
“China is reporting a large incidence currently but my understanding is that this is the Omicron strain which already caused our so-called third wave,” said Sitabhra Sinha, a researcher at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences who has been tracking R values since the beginning of the pandemic. “China was late in becoming part of that wave - possibly the containment policy they had delayed its onset,” he said.
In India, the BA.2 fast overtook the BA.1. On March 3, results of the genome sequencing carried out on samples in Mumbai showed that 100% of the 237 samples that were sequenced had the Omicron’s BA.2 subvariant. According to Sinha, the fourth wave depends on many unknown factors such as the emergence of a new variant that can escape immunity, the contagiousness of the new strain among other things. “It is essentially impossible to say anything about such a hypothetical scenario,” he said.