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Covid Surge Could Mean Endemicity Soon; Possibility of Monkeypox Pandemic Low: Former ICMR Scientist

By: Himani Chandna

News18.com

Last Updated: August 13, 2022, 17:57 IST

New Delhi, India

The expectation that Covid-19 will become endemic means that the pandemic will not end with the virus disappearing. However, there will be less transmission. (Reuters/File)

The expectation that Covid-19 will become endemic means that the pandemic will not end with the virus disappearing. However, there will be less transmission. (Reuters/File)

Former ICMR scientist Dr Raman Gangakhedkar told News18 that creating awareness based on non-stigmatising communication campaigns is the key to dealing with monkeypox

The fresh surge in Covid-19 cases could be a hint that the virus is going towards endemicity, former Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) scientist Dr Raman Gangakhedkar told News18.com.

The epidemiologist, who was the face of the country’s apex medical research agency during government briefings on Covid-19 last year, said that while the situation is not “alarming”, there is need for “close monitoring” to confirm that “it’s the sub-lineages of Omicron and no other new variant”.

“In India, Omicron sub-lineage BA 2.75 is mostly at play. We need to confirm via genome sequencing that it is the Omicron variant which is evolving and no other variant that is leading to the surge in infections.”

“If it’s the Omicron lineage, then its fine and there is no greater need of concern considering that the evolution and progression of virus makes it more infectious, less virulent. In the life cycle of the virus, such progression points that it is going towards endemicity,” Gangakhedkar said.

He, however, added that “when I say endemicity, people will become complacent immediately. But that’s not what we have to do. There is no scope for becoming careless.”

The expectation that Covid-19 will become endemic means that the pandemic will not end with the virus disappearing. However, there will be less transmission followed by lesser Covid-related hospitalisation and fewer deaths despite the virus continuing to circulate.

Around 20,000 Covid-19 cases have been recorded in the national capital from August 1 to 10. More than half of these samples have been detected with the new Omicron sub-variant BA 2.75. The variant, which was first detected in India, has been reported in 20 countries.

According to the top scientist, there is no “strong statistical evidence to establish that deaths and hospitalisations have increased due to Covid-19.”

“Increase in absolute number of infections from four people to eight people is not a significant increase, though in percentage terms it is a 100% jump. Public health decisions or analysis cannot be done on eyeball estimations,” he said.

‘Don’t Think Monkeypox Has Capacity to Build a New Pandemic’

Gangakhedkar, who was involved in the prevention and control strategies against the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) epidemic in India, said that the country is placed in a relatively comfortable position to handle monkeypox infection.

“India’s AIDS control program is strong and has high coverage among key sub-population and provision of antiretroviral therapy. Also, so far, we have seen that the transmission efficiency of monkeypox virus is low. Hence, the chances of spread are less.”

“At the backdrop of Covid-19, the risk of transmission of monkeypox virus is overall very low. Moreover, healthcare workers are used to following standard precautions while handling patients. I don’t think that it has the capacity to build a new pandemic. The changes of facing a new pandemic, altogether, due to monkeypox is extremely low,” he added.

The scientist further said that “the science is evolving every day. We are learning everyday about this new virus. Hence, caution is something that we must always opt for and not panic.”

Moreover, Gangakhedkar, with his background of working with HIV patients for several decades, said that “creating awareness based on non-stigmatising communication campaigns is the key”.

“If you attach stigma with monkeypox, patients will go underground and the disease will keep on spreading silently. I do not fully agree that the disease is spread only by the physical intimacy between men. The government must create awareness that people should avoid physical intimacy with multiple partners and stick to their own partners.”

“It’s the fourth month of the arrival of monkeypox infection and, so far, the cases are not as high to get us alarmed… Our monkeypox strain is not from the rapidly spreading European class, but West African one. Our clade is known to be less virulent,” he added.

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first published:August 13, 2022, 16:49 IST
last updated:August 13, 2022, 17:57 IST