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Omicron Has Reached Community Transmission Stage in India, Says Govt. What This Means and Its Impact

Students wait to enter a school after they reopened amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease in Mumbai. (Image: Reuters)

Students wait to enter a school after they reopened amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease in Mumbai. (Image: Reuters)

A community transmission occurs when the source of transmission for a large number of people cannot be traced.

The Omicron variant, one of the most transmissible variants of Covid-19 discovered yet, is in the community transmission stage in India and has become dominant in multiple metros where new cases have been rising exponentially, the INSACOG said in its latest bulletin recently. It also said BA.2 lineage, an infectious sub-variant of Omicron, has been found in a substantial fraction in the country.

While the acknowledgement of community transmission of Covid-19 in India is merely a statement of the obvious and has little operational implication at this stage of the epidemic, it has garnered attention because it is the first time India has done so officially.

But what does community transmission mean, especially in the case of Covid-19? News18 explains.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), community transmission is “evidenced by an inability to relate confirmed cases through chains of transmission for a large number of cases, or by an increase in positive tests through sentinel samples (routine systematic testing of respiratory samples from established laboratories)”.

In other words, a community transmission case is generally defined as an infected patient who has no known contact with another confirmed case of viral infection or a recent travel history to or from a pandemic-affected country. As a result, community transmission of a virus implies that the virus is freely moving in the community.

Community Transmission of Covid-19

In the context of coronavirus, if a person is diagnosed with Covid-19, their infection is either linked to previous travel to a country where the disease is prevalent, or to contact with someone who is already infected.

A community transmission occurs when the source of transmission for a large number of people cannot be traced.

Is Community Transmission Worrisome?

Community transmission is especially concerning for health officials because it means the virus is present in the community but no one knows where it came from or can trace its origins. This also suggests that the virus is widespread in a community.

What Had India Previously Said?

India had previously claimed that the country’s epidemic had reached a tipping point, with a cluster of cases. This is the stage in which cases detected in the previous two weeks are “predominantly limited to well-defined clusters that are not directly linked to imported cases, but which are all linked by time, geographic location, and common exposures,” according to the WHO classification. Although it is assumed that there are many unidentified cases, this is still regarded as a low-risk situation, according to a report by the Indian Express.

The manner in which the transmissions occur is critical in determining the actions to be taken to limit the disease’s spread. When only sporadic cases are detected, for example, aggressive testing and contact tracing are thought to be among the most effective strategies for halting or slowing the spread of the disease. As all direct contacts of an infected person are identified, tested, and isolated, the population’s number of virus-carrying people decreases significantly, as does the number of transmissions.

However, such a strategy may not produce significant results in terms of slowing the spread in the community transmission stage. In such a case, it is thought to be more beneficial to focus on measures such as hospital management, access to critical care facilities, or genomic surveillance, the report mentions.

How Does Declaring Community Spread Help?

Dr Anshuman Kumar, a Delhi-based cancer specialist, told IANS: “Declaring the community transmission helps in strategy making to curb the infections. Community transmission is defined as the index virus infection is detected majorly in the individuals who don’t have any travel history or any contact with the infected persons.”

What is the Path Ahead Amid Omicron?

Talking to IANS, Dr Niraj Nischal, Additional Professor of Medicine, AIIMS, said: “Omicron is more infectious compared to Delta variant, but it has a survival advantage as it is not causing severe illness among masses as delta did. The variant has more transmissibility but without leading to serious problems for majority of individuals.

“In due course, the variants are replaced always like Delta replaced the earlier variant and the Delta is expected to be replaced by Omicron.”

However, he also added that it doesn’t create any differences for masses as the treatment protocol remains the same. He said that genome sequencing is done only for public health management perspective to monitor for emergence of new dangerous variants as the treatment protocol is same for all variants so far.

The INSACOG has said that while most Omicron cases so far have been asymptomatic or mild, hospitalisations and ICU cases have been increasing in the current wave, and the threat level remains unchanged. “The recently reported B.1.640.2 lineage is being monitored. There is no evidence of rapid spread and while it has features of immune escape, it is currently not a variant of concern. So far, no case detected in India”, the bulletin said.

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first published:January 25, 2022, 11:05 IST