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'New Variants Expected But...': Health Experts Explain Why New Omicron Sub-lineages Might Not be So Fatal

By: News Desk

Edited By: Pritha Mallick


Last Updated: October 19, 2022, 23:10 IST

New Delhi, India

This new Omicron variant is considered to be highly infectious and has greater transmissibility (Shutterstock)

This new Omicron variant is considered to be highly infectious and has greater transmissibility (Shutterstock)

Officials citing INSACOG lab's report stated as per the primary information, all the cases of BQ.1 and BA.2.3.20 sub-variants reported in Maharashtra are mild

The SARS-CoV-2 virus will undergo many mutations and show higher transmissibility but chances of hospitalisations will be lower due to Covid-19 vaccines, health experts said on Wednesday amid growing concerns over the spread of new sub-variants of Omicron.

New sub-variants of Omicron, BQ.1 (US variant), BA.2.3.20 and XBB, which is a recombinant of BA.2.75 and BJ.1 were reported first in Singapore, and responsible for driving up cases in the country, have been found in Nepal and Bangladesh. In India, the sub-variants have been reported Maharashtra, West Bengal, Odisha, Tamil Nadu and Kerala leading the Union Health Ministry to order the observing mask mandates, Covid-19-appropriate behaviour and protocol and calls to experts to monitor the mutation of the virus.

Experts have noted that while the Covid-19 virus will undergo many mutations, it will get weaker as seen in the case of the Omicron strain. “Covid viruses will go through many mutations. Historically, every time the virus goes through a mutation, it will get a little weaker as we have seen with Omicron. New variants will be even more effective and will spread," Chairman and Managing Director of Medanta, Dr Naresh Trehan told ANI.

However, health officials have said while the variants are expected to mutate, people have developed immunity against the virus due to the vaccines. “New variants of Covid-19 are expected which have the tendency to mutate. The situation is different now, earlier there was no vaccination but people are vaccinated now and have developed immunity against the virus," AIIMS Ex-Director and CII Public Health Council Chairman, Dr Randeep Guleria said.

Health Ministry Says mask mandate should continue

He urged people to continue wearing masks in crowded areas and said chances of severe infection including hospitalisation and ICU admissions are low. “If you’re going out and especially in crowded places then must wear a mask, high-risk groups, elderly people should avoid going out because there are high chances of spreading infection. The chances of hospitalisation and ICU admissions are low," he added.

Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya has stressed on monitoring entry points as countries are witnessing a steep rise in Covid cases due to the emergence of new Omicron variants.

In a Covid review meeting held on Tuesday, ahead of the upcoming festivals and winter, Mandaviya stressed the need to undertake adequate testing (with a higher proportion of RTPCR) and effective Covid surveillance to assess and control the spread of infection in a timely manner. He directed officials to continue to focus on surveillance, particularly through sentinel sites including monitoring of SARI and ILI cases, and on Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) to scan for any possible mutation in the wake of the identification of Omicron variants in other countries, an official statement read.

He also urged officials to closely monitor hospitalisations due to Covid and urged officials to increase the pace of vaccination, including precautionary doses to eligible beneficiaries.

Sub-variant Cases in Maharashtra

Meanwhile, the Maharashtra health department on Wednesday said at least 18 cases of XBB sub-variant of Omicron have been reported in the state in the first fortnight of October. Of the total number of XBB cases in the state, 13 of these cases are from Pune, two each from Nagpur and Thane and one from Akola district. Apart from these cases, Pune has also reported one case each of BQ.1 and BA.2.3.20 sub-variants between September 24 to October 11.

Officials citing INSACOG lab’s report stated as per the primary information, all these cases are mild. The BQ.1 case in Pune is of mild variety and has a history of travel to the USA, PTI news agency reported. “Genetic mutations are part of the natural life cycle of the virus and there is no need to be concerned about this but to take appropriate precautions for COVID containment," it said.

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has also issued an advisory ahead of the festivals urging citizens to adhere to Covid-19-appropriate behaviour, including wearing of masks and get tested on developing respiratory infection. Referring to the cases of new subvariants detected in the state, the civic body said these new variants have a growth advantage over other variants of Omicron like BA.2.75 and also immune evasive properties and advised residents to take precautionary measures to prevent a surge in cases. People having difficulty in breathing, immunocompromised patients and those who have recently visited countries where the coronavirus infection is prevalent, should seek immediate medical advice, it added.

Sub-variant evades neutralising antibodies: Study

According to the latest study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal, the BA.2.75.2 variant of Omicron largely evades neutralising antibodies in the blood and is resistant to several Covid-19 antibody therapies.

Researchers at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden noted the risk of increased Covid infections in the upcoming winter, unless the new updated bivalent vaccines help to boost immunity in the population.

“While antibody immunity is not completely gone, BA.2.75.2 exhibited far more dramatic resistance than variants we’ve previously studied, largely driven by two mutations in the receptor binding domain of the spike protein," the study’s corresponding author Ben Murrell, an assistant professor at Karolinska Institutet was quoted as saying.

However, researchers noted that is unclear whether the new variants will cause serious illness and drive up hospitalisation rates. They said that while the current vaccine had a protective effect against severe disease for Omicron infection in general, no data yet exists on the protection from these new variants by the updated Covid vaccines.

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first published:October 19, 2022, 22:42 IST
last updated:October 19, 2022, 23:10 IST
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