China reported a surge in COVID-19 cases of the Omicron variant on Thursday, 10 March. As of Saturday, 12 March, 1,500 fresh cases were recorded, the highest number in over two years.
So Is China facing another wave? Should we expect another wave of COVID in India?
No, no, and no, say experts.
But let's look at all these questions a little deeper. We spoke to Dr Jayaprakash Muliyil, epidemiologist and chairperson of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the National Institute of Epidemiology, and Dr T Jacob John, virologist and microbiologist.
Why Is China Witnessing Another "Wave"?
Dr Muliyil says, "China has followed a zero-COVID policy. They can do so because they're a totalitarian country. They use technology and rules to control people. Virally, China was the best."
But, he adds that Omicron's extremely high transmissibility finds a way and will spread despite such repression.
"They have a blessing in the form of Omicron, because Omicron has a VERY low severity. It's extremely immunogenic and spreads faster than the other variants. There's nothing you can do to stop it. It's extremely liberating in some sense, because this will reduce repression in the country, and let people breathe a little easier."Dr. Jayaprakash Muliyil, Chairperson, Scientific Advisory Committee, National Institute of Epidemiology
"Omicron is like floodwater flowing into low-lying lands. The increased infections is because of low levels of prior infections," says virologist Dr T Jacob John.
"Previous efforts at vaccination did nothing to stem the flow of Omicron," he adds.
Both experts concur on the fact that the only way forward is to let Omicron run its course.
Ironically, China imposed fresh lockdowns and restrictions on over 9 million citizens this week in the northeastern industrial district of Changchun where just two cases were reported. Another 98 were reported in the areas surrounding Changchun.
Further, all citizens will be subject to three rounds of mass testing. All of these steps come as part of China's “zero tolerance” approach to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Will India Face Another COVID-19 Wave?
"Another wave may come, a new virus may emerge, a meteorite may strike the Earth. I can't predict all this. We have to face it when it comes. We can't go on thinking about the coronavirus all the time," says Dr. Muliyil.
The two major factors that reduce the severity of infection are previous infection and previous immunization.
The low-severity, highly contagious nature of Omicron speeds up this process by spreading faster.
"Further with Omicron we only get the symptoms that affect the bronchus and the tubes, so you don't get pneumonia-like symptoms, as in the case of Delta."Dr. Jayaprakash Muliyil, Chairperson, Scientific Advisory Committee, National Institute of Epidemiology
Dr. Muliyil adds, "We have it stark in our face and we don't want to believe it. I think the epidemic is over. China will have an epidemic, they need an epidemic, they will be relieved after an epidemic. They should permit the epidemic and they need to let the epidemic run its course instead of having a zero-COVID policy. And then the world will become a safe place again."
So What Can We Do?
"We need to do nothing differently. We need to keep following the measures we've been following. That's all," says Dr John.
He adds that the news about fresh cases from China has a lot of sensationalism to it, with little detail of the severity of the cases, and how many are symptomatic or asymptomatic.
Interestingly, according to the South China Morning Post, most cases are asymptomatic. Further, current numbers show that only 6 cases, less than 0.1% of China's total reported infections, are severe.
In a way, Dr John adds, Omicron is a blessing. It has a high transmissibility with low severity.
So with all this information in our hands, the only thing we need to do is keep doing what we're doing, and follow the measure we've been following, to keep the spread of COVID to a bare minimum.
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