10,753 new cases of COVID were reported in India on 15 April, making it the third day in a row to record over 10,000 fresh COVID cases.
There are currently 53,720 active cases of COVID in the country – the highest it's been this year.
The current surge in cases has been attributed to the XBB.1.16 Omicron sub-variant. According to health authorities, the variant is being closely watched.
Why is India seeing another COVID wave now after months of a lull? Should you be worried about the rising number of cases? Will XBB 1.16 cause more severe disease? Past President, Public Health Foundation of India, Dr K Srinath Reddy, explains.
Why are we seeing a surge in COVID cases again?
Dr K Srinath Reddy: Omicron has had a fairly long stay, and so far has not been displaced by a new virus form of SARS-CoV-2.
Many of these viruses will surge in a cyclical manner. It is because of a combination of several factors:
Weather and climatic changes
Changing levels of immunity in the host population
Change in behavioural patterns - people are less likely to take personal precautions
So for a variety of reasons, I think we will get periodic spikes. This is going to be an ongoing phenomenon that we will continue to see from time to time.
Can the XBB.1.16 wave lead to another pandemic like situation?
Dr K Srinath Reddy: If we talk about pandemic in terms of a public health emergency of international concern, which is what we are really worried about, then it's unlikely to be so because we are seeing this particular variant, multiple countries.
It has already emerged in the United States before it was reported in high numbers in India and elsewhere, too. And we have not heard any reports of high levels of hospitalisation.
As long as it's Omicron, and it's some variants that are dominating the scene and no further variant emerges with a higher level of virulence, and we do not see a surge in the number of cases requiring hospitalisation for serious illness.
Are the COVID vaccine doses I took still effective?
Dr K Srinath Reddy: I do not think we have much to worry about. People who have been vaccinated, or have had previously had natural infection with some level of persistent immunity – even though the antibodies have faded – the cellular immunity may still remain.
The memory cells may get activated and again provide some protection if exposed to the virus. These people are not going to be at great trouble.
How can I protect myself from getting sick?
Dr K Srinath Reddy: Vaccination prevents severe illness, but if you are exposed to the virus, it will not prevent it from entering the upper respiratory tract.
It (vaccines) will not prevent infection, but that you will have to use masks.
We will have to use other methods so that you don't expose yourself unnecessarily to the virus, like avoiding crowds, moving only in well-ventilated places, and so on.
So these lessons will continue with us, but the important thing is from the public health point of view.
Is it a major threat to health in terms of severe infections and deaths? At the moment, the answer is reassuringly not.