The recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Delhi, driven by Omicron virus variant and its subtypes, has raised apprehensions of a possible rise in cases in Kerala in the coming months. However, health experts feel that COVID-19 has ceased to be a public health threat like it was in 2020-21 and that a rise in case numbers should not be a cause for concern as long as severity of cases or mortality does not go up.
“We should definitely expect COVID-19 cases to go up in Kerala by mid-May but though cases will go up, we do not really expect to see a palpable curve like during the second wave. If the disease is “mild” or not severe, it is very likely that people would not bother testing and hence while the actual case numbers might be high, the true picture may not even be reflected in the official figures and the epidemic curve,” says T.S. Anish, a public health expert and a member of the State’s experts’ committee on COVID-19.
It has been identified that in Delhi, the Omicron variant BA.2.12.1 and eight other subtypes are circulating in the community, driving up case numbers. While the World Health Organisation (WHO) has been tracking several sister variants of the original Omicron BA.1 (BA.4 and BA.5), BA.2 variants, as well as BA.1.1 and BA.3, there has been little information on its transmissibility or immune escape potential.
‘Not more dangerous’
BA.2 has been in wide circulation in Kerala and while the State needs to be vigilant about the emergence of new virus variants, none of the new sub variants of Omicron have so far proved to be more infectious or dangerous.
“Regardless of the new and emerging virus variants, our endpoint — reduction of mortality — does not change. Announcing the names of new variants serves no purpose other than to scare the public, because it has no bearing on either clinical management of COVID or the preventive measures that the public are advised to take. We should continue to protect the immunocompromised and the elderly from getting the infection and keep a sharp eye on hospital admissions and any increase in severity,” says R. Aravind, Head of Infectious Diseases, Thiruvananthapuram Medical College.
Possibility in Delhi
People are learning to live with the virus and most have either hybrid immunity (prior infection and vaccine-derived immunity) or have been fully vaccinated, which protects against disease severity. Kerala might have eased all restrictions on civil life that were imposed at the height of COVID, but at no point has the State advised people to give up on COVID protocols or mask wearing. “It is possible that lifting of mask restrictions and everyone losing the protection of masks all at once might have triggered the surge in cases in Delhi. Intelligent use of masks is important — you might not need masks while driving or outdoors but when in a gathering, you still need masks,” says Dr. Aravind.
“As COVID becomes endemic, one danger is that the health system, administration and the people at large will become so complacent that only deaths will get noticed. Even then, we will compare the current stats with the previous figures and feel happy that we have the situation under control. There is also the danger that many preventable deaths might just get glossed over,“ a public health expert pointed out.