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Covid-19 in India becoming endemic: DST sec Gokhale

With India’s caseload mostly comprising sub-lineages of Omicron rather than any other variant, the government is of the view that covid-19 is no longer a pandemic but moving towards endemicity, said department of science and technology secretary Rajesh Gokhale.

He added that while previous variants— Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta — were different from each other; the current variants are emerging only from Omicron, indicating endemicity in the country, meaning the disease is set to “stay with us”. “In many cases, it is very clearly understood that there will be sporadic events that will occur. That’s how endemicity occurs actually. So, we will always get some variants. We have to look at the evolution of the virus. The way Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Omicron have come, all of these were different from each other, which indicated that they did not emerge from one or the other. “But now, what we are looking at is that variants are emerging from Omicron only. So, this is the typical scenario of endemicity occurring,” he said in an interview. Omicron remains the dominant variant circulating globally, accounting for 97% of sequences reported. Among the Omicron lineages, BA.2 is the most common, while BA.2.12.1, BA.5, and BA.4 are present in lower numbers.

According to government scientists, in India, many BA.2 cases have been reclassified as BA.2.38, which seems to be the prevalent sub-lineage in the latest sequencing batches.

“However, so far, this has not led to any increase in hospitalization or any report of increase in disease severity. A few deaths that have been reported recently are due to comorbidities. Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics) is closely monitoring the current situation. Covid-appropriate behaviour is likely to reduce the spread of the infection and hence continues to be recommended,” said an INSACOG official. Mint on Monday reported that the most dominant sub-variant in India is BA.2, accounting for around 85% of cases. BA.5 is estimated at around 10%. INSACOG has sequenced 221,836 samples so far. “Some of them will be virulent while some of them will be highly transmissible because of the mutations that will occur. The government will speak out if they see a strong co-relation between a strain and its requirement for health emergency. There are only a very few severe cases and most are mild. Right now, it is a classical scenario of how endemicity is coming from it. At present, there is nothing to worry.”

A paper published in Lancet journal earlier this year said at least in highly vaccinated countries, the link between cases and deaths seems to have weakened, if not quite broken.

“We have to keep our seatbelts on,” said Prof Srinath Reddy, president, Public Health Foundation of India.

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