Video Producer & Editor: Garima Sadhwani
Almost three years into the coronavirus pandemic, China is witnessing an inexplicable surge in the number of COVID-19 cases.
Official data from the country does not confirm this – but health experts across the globe are ringing alarm bells, while others say the situation unfolding in China is along 'expected lines', due to its recent removal of the Zero-COVID policy.
At a time when social media is flooded with videos showing people and health systems in China being burdened with the virus, should India be worried? Experts say India has reasons to both worry and not worry. Here are the key points.
The Reasons to Worry
This Is An Emerging Variant
Dr Aviral Vatsa, a Physician with NHS, Scotland, United Kingdom, said that there should be a close watch on whether a new variant emerges.
"Along with hospitalisations, we should keep a watch on new emerging variants, and how they are behaving. We have to keep an eye out on how these variants are affecting people who are already vaccinated," Dr Vatsa added.
"Genome sequencing is going to be very important. Not only for the variants – not only for the variants developing in China, but also everywhere in the world. COVID is spreading in other countries – some countries are testing, some are not. But the virus is doing it's job, we are not. So, along with keeping a close watch on China and developments, we should keep a closer watch on what's happening around us – with regard to testing and tracing."
Mask Mandate, Taking Booster To Be Given Focus
Experts agree that there should be a vigorous focus by the government to make masks mandatory, and to encourage people to take booster shots.
"Governments should be very busy in pushing people to wear N95 masks. They should ask people to take their booster doses, and encourage them to do so – these are the things that in real terms will prevent the virus from spreading."
But should there be travel restrictions? There are differing opinions on that. While Dr Vatsa says that travel restrictions have been ineffective in the past, Apollo Hospitals Managing Director Dr Sangita Reddy has called for a revised policy.
Lack Of Information From China
BF.7, the variant suspected to be the cause of spike in COVID cases in India, has been detected in several other countries around the world. This includes India, the United States, the UK, and several European countries such as Belgium, Germany, France, and Denmark – where there has been no exponential spike in cases.
But experts say that there is no information on why China alone is facing a spike in cases, apart from the zero-COVID strategy, and this could be worrying.
"Since Omicron seems to cause milder illness, as long as we continue to see Omicron-derived variants, we should see milder forms of the disease. Does this mean we will no longer have a variant with a severe disease again? I don't think there are any guarantees to that. That speaks as to why it continues to be important to monitor both the clinical picture and the genome," Dr Gagandeep Kang, Renowned Virologist, had told FIT earlier in November.
But There Are Many Reasons Not to Worry
Govt is Increasing Genome Sequencing:
In a statement on 20 December, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, wrote to the states to increase genomic sequencing across India.
Dr NK Arora, Chairman of the COVID-19 working group NTAGI, has said:
"It is an important thing that we keep a close vigil on the situation in China. But I would say that there is nothing to panic about. There is no need for getting too much worried. The system is very vigilant, we need to be very vigilant. As far as genomic surveillance is concerned, this is the most important part, we are doing genomic surveillance of individuals with symptoms."Dr NK Arora to news agency ANI
India's COVID-19 Tally has Remained Low
The Omicron variant BF.7 – which is said to be the cause behind the huge spike in cases – was detected in India in October. However, it has not really resulted in a spike in cases in India.
On 20 December, India recorded 131 fresh infections, while the number of active cases came down to 3,408, according to the Health Ministry data.
The toll due to the viral disease increased to 5,30,680 with just three more fatalities, including two deaths in Kerala and one reported from West Bengal in the last 24 hours.
"We should be thinking about our own situation, based on what we see around us. What is it that we see? Our healthcare system is handling cases well. The testing has crashed due to fewer cases. We are not seeing a lot of sick people flocking to hospitals," Dr Gagandeep Kang told FIT, back in November.
This Is Expected From China's Zero-COVID Policy
"After largely containing the coronavirus in 2020, China began enforcing a strict zero-COVID policy leading up to the Beijing Olympics in 2022. The result is that China has not followed the standard path of a pandemic where people slowly gain immunity through exposure or vaccination, allowing the society to open up over time," wrote Elanah Uretsky, a medical anthropologist who studies public health trends in China from an epidemiologic and social perspective, in The Conversation.
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