Diwali, the biggest festival in India is just a few days away, and for many, it will be the first ‘COVID-free’ celebration after two years.
This is not entirely true as COVID-19 is still around, with the country still adding around 2,000 new cases a day.
But the relatively low numbers have given an impression that the pandemic is over, due to which most of us have stopped following social distancing and other COVID-19-appropriate behaviour.
This gives the virus more chances to evolve into new and potentially more lethal variants.
Two Omicron sub-variants found in India
The recent discovery of two sub-variants of Omicron in India has once again reiterated that COVID is far from over.
The first case of the new Omicron BQ.1 sub-variant has been detected in India on Monday, in a patient sample from Pune.
BQ.1 is a descendant of Omicron’s BA.5, which is currently the dominant version of SARS-CoV-2 in the US.
BQ.1’s detection in India comes just after BF.7 – another Omicron sub-variant was picked up in Gujarat. BF.7 was first reported in China’s Inner Mongolia region.
18 cased of XBB in Maharashtra
Until Wednesday, at least 18 cases of XBB sub-variant of Omicron were reported in Maharashtra in the first fortnight of October.
A health official said 13 of these cases are from Pune, two each from Nagpur and Thane and one from Akola district.
XBB, a recombinant lineage between two Omicron sublineages BJ.1 and BA.2.75, is a fast-spreading variant, which was seen to have caused a spike across Singapore recently. As per the Maharashtra Health Department report, the XBB, has a growth advantage over BA.2.75 and evasive immune properties.
Spike in Maharashtra blamed on new sub-variants
Maharashtra also reported a 17.7 per cent rise in new COVID cases this week compared to last week.
Citing the spike, the state health department said that the winters and the festive season result in a further increase in new infections.
This is a concern experts across the country and the Health Ministry also have expressed.
Health Minister meets top officials
On Wednesday, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya had met senior health officials over the emergence of Omicron’s new sub-variants.
Niti Aayog member VK Paul, Chairperson of COVID-19 working group NTAGI NK Arora, NTAGI officials, NEGVAC officials and other senior health officials, were reportedly part of the meeting.
Festival season is crucial
Dr. Naresh Trehan, Chairman and MD of Medanta Hospital on Wednesday said that the upcoming festival season is a critical period for a surge in COVID-19 cases.
“We obviously fear that this COVID has not gone and our behaviour pattern should not be today like it’s gone. We can’t be careless now. These viruses will go through many mutations. Historically, every time the virus goes through a mutation, it will get a little weaker as we have seen with Omicron also,” Dr. Trehan told ANI.
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Follow COVID-appropriate behaviour
Former Director of Delhi AIIMS, Dr. Randeep Guleria also echoed him and urged people to follow COVID-appropriate behaviour.
“I would suggest to everyone that if they are going out and especially in crowded places then they must wear a mask. High-risk groups, elderly people should avoid going out because there are high chances of spreading infection and some can also get a serious infection,” Dr. Guleria told ANI.
“New variants are expected and this variant has a tendency to mutate that will continue, but now the situation is different, earlier, there was no vaccination, but people are now vaccinated also. But this doesn’t mean that people will stop taking precautions, festival season is coming up and cases are also rising,” he said.
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