New Delhi: India is gearing up to take proactive measures as the number of COVID-19 cases is once again on the rise in countries like Japan, the US, the Republic of Korea, Brazil and China. China is witnessing a huge upsurge in COVID cases due to the proliferation of the Omicron BF.7 variant. This comes in the aftermath of the revocation of the ‘Zero Covid’ policy by the Chinese government after massive protests and demonstrations by Chinese citizens against exasperating restrictions that took a toll on people’s mental health and financial well-being. ETHealthworld addresses some pertinent questions about this new Omicron sub-variant BF.7.
When was the BF.7 variant first reported?
According to multiple media reports, this particular variant, BF.7, started to replace the older variants of omicron in countries like the US and several other European nations by October itself. So, to call it immediate hostility would be an incorrect assertion.
How is the sub-variant BF.7 different from other mutations of Omicron?
Omicron BF.7 is the downstream or, sub-lineage of BA.5. According to a research study by ‘Cell Host and Microbe’ journal, BF.7 has 4.4 times higher neutralisation resistance (NR) than the original variant that emerged from Wuhan, China, in 2020. BQ.1, which is still very active in the US, has ten times more neutralisation resistance (NR). The rate at which a particular variant can replace itself over the other variants that exist among people is measured by NR. In other words, BF.7 is more transmissible, has a shorter incubation period, and does have the capacity to cause a higher number of re-infections, even in people who are vaccinated, than the original virus that broke out in the world in 2020.
What is the current scenario in India?
So far, four cases of COVID-19 have been identified that have been caused by the BF.7 variant. Among these, two were reported from Gujarat, and the other two were from the state of Orissa. Three out of four reported cases have already recovered from the infection.
How concerned should one be?
Experts have predicted that BF.7 has the potential to create a sense of uncertainty and may cause a huge loss of life as well. Recently Eric Feigl-Ding, Chief COVID Task Force, New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI), in a tweet pointed out that, as per epidemiological estimates, more than 60 per cent of the Chinese population and 10 per cent of the global population are likely to get infected with this virus over the next 90 days. Chinese hospitals are facing beds and medicine shortages, and videos from crematoriums overburdened with COVID deaths are also making the rounds on social media. So much so that World Health Organisation (WHO) Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “WHO is very concerned over the evolving situation in China, with increasing reports of severe disease,” on Thursday.
How is India preparing to tackle the situation?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a high-level meeting in view of the rising concerns over the Omicron BF.7 variant. Dr Mansukh Mandaviya, Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India (GoI) reaffirmed on Wednesday that COVID-19 is not yet over and asked people to be wary of the situation and work together on strengthening surveillance. The Health Ministry has requested States/UTs to send samples of all COVID-19-positive cases to INSACOG labs to track new variants if any. A letter as well has been issued by Rajesh Bhushan, Additional Chief Secretary, Health Ministry, on Tuesday, in which he emphasised India’s focus on the five-fold strategy of test-track-treat-vaccination and adherence to COVID-appropriate behaviour.
How to stay protected and prevent the spread?
Keeping the status quo GoI has advised people to mask up, although it has not been mandatory. Dr VK Paul, Member Health, NITI Aayog on Wednesday said, “People should wear masks in crowded areas. Those who have comorbidities or are elderly should especially adhere to this.”
To prevent the spread of BF.7, people must follow COVID-appropriate behaviour. It includes working from home, avoiding gathering in crowded places, taking booster shots, and making sure children are in a safer environment.
Aadar Poonawala, CEO, Serum Institute of India (SII) also reaffirmed this through a tweet, “The news of rising COVID cases coming out of China is concerning, we need not panic given our excellent vaccination coverage and track record. We must continue to trust and follow the guidelines set by the Government of India and @MoHFW_INDIA.”