Covid-19: XBB 1.16 variant no big threat, but too early to lower guard

Ayushman Bharat scheme
The Ayushman Bharat scheme, aimed at reducing out-of-pocket healthcare expenses, is facing challenges due to fraudulent practices by some practitioners.

India has been witnessing a surge in Covid-19 and influenza cases for the last three weeks, bringing fresh concerns regarding new mutants of the coronavirus. The pandemic has completed three years now, but the world is still unsure whether it is time to declare the end of the pandemic which caused millions of deaths across the world. Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Covid-19 is far from over while speaking at a high-level review meeting.

The ministry of health and family welfare recorded 1,805 new Covid-19 cases in the last one day, slightly lower than 1,890 cases recorded in the previous day. India now has more than 10,000 active Covid cases with a daily positivity rate is 3.19%. The recovery rate is currently 98.79%. India has administered 220.65 crore vaccine doses, out of which 95.20 crore are second dose and 22.86 crore precaution doses.

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The cause of the rising number of infections is probably the new XBB.1.16 variant. Telangana, Karnataka, Gujarat and Maharashtra have reported a number of XBB.1.16 cases. The new variant is expected to emerge as a dominant strain in the UK and Europe and is rapidly spreading in the US as well.

Possibility of fresh Covid-19 breakout

As long as the virus does not cause severe illness and deaths, there is no need for concern. This is because new variants will keep coming as the virus keeps on mutating over time and the XBB 1.16 is no exception according to the current information. In fact, each new variant will also help in giving some degree of immunity to the population if they have mild illness. As compared to the frequency of past variants, it seems that the virus has stabilised, and is not changing as rapidly as it was in the past.

Total Covid-19 cases in India

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Nonetheless, in the view of rising cases, both state governments and the Union government must be prepared and ramp up existing medical infrastructure should the need arise. The moment is especially crucial for India as the president of the G20 group of countries. It also has a moral responsibility to set precedent for other countries as G20 host. This is particularly so in light of the One Health Mission that India is working on and is expected to be rolled out in the near future. The G20 is already engaged with One Health (OH) issues and pandemic preparedness is one of the current focus areas.

So far, India has administered more than two billion doses of covid-19 vaccines in the country. Health experts also continue to advise preventative measures such as self-isolation if symptomatic, wearing masks in crowded areas, maintaining social distancing, washing hands, and covering sneezes.

At an individual level, those who get infected and test positive must report the status so that policy makers and government actually know the number of cases and take a decision and plan a strategy accordingly. Previously, data remained under-reported in several countries both due to the lack of individual willingness and respective government’s unwillingness to cause panic and to put on a strong front.

In the meeting he chaired, PM Modi also emphasised the need to be prepared and assessed the availability of health infrastructure and logistics, status of the vaccination campaign, emergence of new COVID-19 variants and influenza types and their public health implications for the country. The government has decided to go ahead with a five-fold strategy of test-track-treat-vaccination and COVID-appropriate behaviour, enhanced lab surveillance and testing of all Severe Acute Respiratory Illness (SARI) cases.

The COVID-19 pandemic was a global outbreak of coronavirus, an infectious disease caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) virus. The first cases of novel coronavirus (nCoV) were first detected in China in December 2019, with the virus spreading rapidly to other countries across the world. This led the World Health Organisation (WHO) to declare a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020, and to characterise the outbreak as a pandemic on 11 March 2020.

Since the pandemic began in 2020, India has recorded more than 44 million COVID-19 cases and 530,816 deaths related to the infection, according to the government data. However, it is widely accepted that the actual number of deaths may exceed the official figure by millions due to gross under-reporting.

The second wave of the pandemic saw a severe shortage of resources in the country, with even oxygen having to be imported from abroad. As of 20 March, 2023, the total number of deaths due to coronavirus stand at nearly 6.88 million according to the WHO site.