Amid a gradual increase in Covid-19 cases in Delhi in recent days, some medical experts say the new XBB.1.16 variant could be driving the rise in cases but add there’s no need to panic and people should follow Covid-appropriate behaviour and get booster shots if they have not already.
They also say this rise could be a result of more people getting themselves tested for Covid as a precaution when they actually get infected with the influenza virus and develop fever and related ailments.
Over the past week, Delhi has seen a rise in daily Covid cases amid a sharp increase in H3N2 influenza cases in parts of the country, including the national capital. On Friday, Delhi recorded over 150 fresh Covid cases with a positivity rate of 6.66 per cent.
A day before that, it logged 117 cases with a positivity rate of 4.95 per cent. The number of daily Covid cases has nearly doubled since Tuesday when 83 fresh Covid cases were reported with a positivity rate of 5.83 per cent and one fatality.
The number of fresh Covid cases had dropped to zero on January 16, the first time since the pandemic began. This is the first time since October last year that Delhi recorded daily Covid-19 cases in three digits. The Delhi health department data showed that 1,653 tests were conducted on Tuesday and 2,282 tests were done on Thursday.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
Only 27 of the 7,984 beds are occupied in dedicated Covid-19 hospitals, while 250 patients are in home isolation, the department said in a bulletin on Friday. The number of active cases in the national capital currently stands at 424, the data showed.
Dr Jugal Kishore, head of the medicine department at the Centre-run Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi, said that Covid has become ”similar to influenza” where the virus undergoes change every year and infects people.”Omicron infected more than 95 per cent of the population.
People have developed antibodies against it and chances of infection from the same variant are less unless the surface antigens change. XBB.1.16, a variant of Omicron, which originated in Japan and was found in China and Singapore, could be behind the rise in cases (in India),” he said.
It has a high transmissibility and cases are likely to increase, but there won’t be many deaths, the doctor said, adding that an increase in testing will reflect the increase in number. Dr Kishore, however, cautioned people with comorbidities and those who have a severe illness, saying they are at a higher risk.
He feared there could be mortality in these cases.”People who have not taken a booster vaccine dose should take it, especially those who have people with comorbidities or patients in their families,” he said.
A senior doctor at LNJP, Delhi government’s largest hospital and the mainstay of its fight against the pandemic, said, ”New variants keep coming as the virus evolves”.”But the current situation in Delhi seems to stem from a rise in influenza cases. As more people are falling sick, more people are getting themselves tested for Covid. So the rise in the number of cases is being seen,” she said.
However, there’s nothing to panic about at the moment and people should take all precautions, the doctor said.”Yesterday, three Covid patients were admitted to LNJP and one more was admitted today. So four people are admitted as of now. We have a few patients of influenza too, who are admitted in a separate room,” she said.
Dr Richa Sareen, a consultant in pulmonology at Fortis hospital here, said, ”I feel the rise in Covid cases is led by the new variant. But XBB.1.16 is a variant of Omicron and so there shouldn’t be much to worry about as most people have developed antibodies over time, especially after the last wave driven by Omicron,” she said.
However, there’s a need to exercise caution and people should wear masks in crowded places, she said, adding that those who are immunocompromised or have comorbidities should be extra careful. Former AIIMS director Dr Randeep Guleria on Wednesday said the XBB.1.16 variant could be driving the recent rise but emphasised there was no need for panic as long it does not cause severe illness and deaths.
Dr Guleria said any virus evolves over time and this has happened with both Covid and influenza.This is what is called antigenic drift, he said.It will gradually evolve, mutate a little bit and new variants will emerge, Guleria added.