New Delhi: Experts have cautioned against letting the guard down and called for maintaining strict vigil after the country detected a new Omicron subvariant BQ.1.
They said Covid-19 cases could rise in the coming days due to festivals including Diwali next week. BQ.1 is an offshoot of the Omicron variant related to the BA.5 version that drove the surge in the US.
“The discovery of BQ.1 is not unexpected,” said Rajeev Jayadevan, co-chairman of Indian Medical Association‘s (IMA) National Task Force on Covid. “Continued precautions will need to be kept, especially because older people or those with comorbidities can occasionally suffer severe outcomes even with Omicron, even if vaccinated.”
Experts believe that hybrid immunity in India should help prevent another wave.”I don’t think there is any cause of worry. This is still Omicron and India has high levels of hybrid immunity from prior vaccination and infection,” said virologist Shahid Jameel of University of Oxford.
He said there is an alarm in the US that it’s a fast-spreading variant but it’s still not causing increased hospital admissions. Jameel said keeping an eye on the emerging sublineages and variants is important. “We need to monitor variants continuously but we also need to get away from the alarm associated with each discovery. Good calm public health measures are needed,” he said.
Gautam Menon, professor of physics and biology at Ashoka University, said at this stage it is hard to say if the new sublineage is a cause of concern.
“The BA.2.75 variant has hitherto been dominant in India, with an advantage over the BA.5 variant prevalent in the USA. It is likely that the substantial hybrid immunity that the Indian population enjoys will soften the impact of this new variant, even if it spreads in the USA. Whether BQ.1 will be a threat at all to us, in this background of our hybrid immunity, remains to be seen,” he said.
Anurag Agrawal, former head of Insacog laboratory consortium and chair of WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution, said there is no data for any greater danger in terms of severe disease as of now.
Top American physician, scientist and immunologist Anthony Fauci has sounded alarm about BQ.1, though. “The two descendants of Omicron’s BA.5 subvariant, called BQ.1 and BQ.1.1, both have dangerous qualities or characteristics that could evade some of the interventions we have,” Fauci told CBS News on Friday.