Experts say India need not worry about China’s Covid spike. Here's why

By, New Delhi
May 30, 2023 06:37 AM IST

The resurgence in China, most evident since late April, is fuelled by the XBB subvariant.

The current wave of Covid-19 infections in China, which could be as high as 65 million cases a week towards the end of June, should not worry India as the country has already been exposed to the Omicron subvariant causing the surge, experts said.

The current wave of Covid-19 in China, which could be as high as 65 million cases a week towards June end, should not worry India (Reuters)
The current wave of Covid-19 in China, which could be as high as 65 million cases a week towards June end, should not worry India (Reuters)

The resurgence in China, most evident since late April, is fuelled by the XBB subvariant. It is expected to result in 40 million infections a week by the end of May before peaking at 65 million a month later, Bloomberg news agency reported, citing a local media outlet that in turn cited a presentation by respiratory disease specialist Zhong Nanshan at a biotech conference in Guangzhou.

Read: Lockdown to be back? China may see 65 million Covid cases a week by late June

“What China is seeing now, India is well past that stage and has emerged unscathed. If you see INSACOG bulletins issued around that time last year, those clearly mentioned that any increase in disease severity or hospitalization was not observed over that period in India,” a member of INSACOG said, requesting anonymity.

INSACOG, or the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium, is a joint initiative of the health ministry, the department of biotechnology, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and the Indian Council of Medical Research comprising 54 laboratories that monitor the genomic variations in SARS-CoV-2.

XBB, which is a combination of Omicron’s a BA.2.10.1 and BA.2.75 subvariants, has been termed as the most immuno-evasive sublineage, according to a Lancet study. It was first detected in Singapore in August last year and was responsible for a sharp surge in Covid cases there.

Read: China's new Covid outbreak sparks concern: Could slow down trading

In India, the subvariant was responsible for a minor surge towards the end of last year. It however led to no increase in hospitalisation rates or death. India has reported 571 positive cases in the past 24 hours.

XBB was the most prevalent sublineage circulating all over India around November-December, accounting for at least 60% of the total samples genome sequenced, INSACOG said.

Omicron and its sub-lineages continue to be the dominant variant in India. XBB is the most prevalent sub-lineage (63.2%) circulating all over India. BA.2.75 and BA.2.10 were also circulating to a lesser extent. Especially, in North-East India, BA.2.75 is the prevalent sub lineage,” the consortium said in early December.

“Among the samples collected till the end of November 2022, the prevalence of XBB and its sub-lineages was 62.6%, for BA.2.75, it was 18.7% whereas, BA.2.10 was 11.0% and those were continued to be the most commonly circulating Omicron sub-lineage,” it added. “In northern half of India, BA.2.75 is the most prevalent sub-lineage whereas in middle and southern part of India, XBB is the most prevalent sub-lineage of omicron variant.”

The measures that the Indian government undertook in terms of extensive vaccination coverage in a short period of time, along with natural immunity against the Omicron variant that a significant section of country’s population acquired earlier last year together prevented the disease from progressing to levels of severity in a majority of Covid positive cases, the INSACOG member said.

Read: India logs 310 new covid cases in 24 hours, active tally at 4,709

“China has been under complete lockdown for a significant period of time. Therefore, people didn’t get to build immunity against the virus that was fast mutating,” the person added.

Meanwhile, XBB.1.16 is currently the dominant recombinant variant of Sars-CoV-2 in India, with at least 80% of the Covid positive samples testing positive for it, according to INSACOG data. There have been no signs of increased severity in disease.

“When hospitalisations and deaths due to the disease is not high, and even hospitalisations are seen in a small section of population such as elderly and comorbid, then rising infections should not scare us that much,” said Dr R Gangakhedkar, former head of the epidemiology division at the Indian Council of Medical Research.

“The mutants have continued to be from the same lineage, Omicron, for the past 17 months and this was not the character of the virus earlier that used to create a variant of concern almost every six months,” Dr Gangakhedkar said. “Many countries have even stopped tracking new infections.”

To be sure, vulnerable persons should be cautious, he added. “Highly vulnerable persons should continue to follow Covid appropriate behaviour and precautionary dose. No matter how mild this infection would be perceived, we do not know the impact of getting repeated Covid infections on incidence and its severity,” he said.

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    Rhythma Kaul works as an assistant editor at Hindustan Times. She covers health and related topics, including ministry of health and family welfare, government of India.

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