"The surge in China is not something that India needs to worry about. There is no need to panic. Only vulnerable population need to wear masks," stresses Dr Chandrakant Lahariya, one of India's leading public health policy experts, in light of the COVID-19 surge in China, and the myriad of questions about how it can impact India.
Here are the excerpts from Dr Lahariya's interview with The Quint.
What is happening in China?
There is no surprise with what is happening in China. This was bound to happen with the Omicron variant. When they dropped the zero policy, they did not do it in a calibrated manner, in which the older and more vulnerable population may have been protected.
The Chinese government has not said much about the situation, but one can also not blindly believe the unverified posts on social media. However, the situation is worrisome in China – we don't know and cannot say for sure what is happening with hospitalisations or deaths.
Should India be worried?
There is no need for people in India to worry. The reasons for the spike in COVID-19 cases in China is very different from that of India. For almost three years now, China has followed the zero-COVID policy.
Even if there are just one of two cases, it used to put forth harsh restrictions and lockdowns, this resulted in the population not developing natural immunity. Even now a large portion of China's population is susceptible to the infection.
Why is it different in India?
In India, there has been three waves – and in the Delta wave, a majority of the population – be it elderly or younger people – were exposed to the virus. India has also achieved 97 percent vaccination coverage with at least one dose of vaccine.
But what also matters is when a person is inoculated. If the person gets the vaccine after the infection, they are protected both by natural immunity and the vaccine – giving them hybrid immunity. This has protected a lot of Indians.
Does this mean the BF.7 variant is not a threat to India?
Omicron sub-variant BF.7 has been in India for the last three-four months. This means that Indians are already exposed to it, and it has not caused any spike in the number of cases. We cannot say that COVID will not see a resurgence at all - but India can definitely not worry about the BF.7 variant.
Should masks be made mandatory?
At present, there is no need to make masks mandatory. As a public health measure, it is no longer required.
If someone wants to wear masks, it is for their personal protection – and will not have any other impact. I would recommend only those who have comorbidities, and are from the vulnerable population to wear masks.
What should the government be doing?
If governments are keeping a watch, it is as a precautionary measure. It is the responsibility of the government to assess policy measures. Nothing has changed for the public, and there is no need to panic or have physical distancing measures. I will even go further to say that there no need to track international passengers. What the government needs to do now is:
Increase genomic sequencing
Make sure that there is no spread of misinformation about the virus