Indians shouldn't panic by COVID-19 scare in China: Dr Rakesh Mishra

The Omicron sub-variant BF.7, the Covid strain causing China's current spike in cases, has been found in at least four cases in India so far

Indians shouldnt panic by COVID-19 scare in China: Dr Rakesh Mishra

HYDERABAD: The COVID19 virus is spreading uncontrollably in China, months after a strict lockdown was imposed to stop Covid's spread there.

Everyone around the world has been terrified since the Chinese news broke about the Covid Variant "BF.7," which is responsible for the large number of infections in China.

The Omicron sub-variant BF.7, the Covid strain causing China's current spike in cases, has been found in at least four cases in India so far, two of which are from Gujarat and two of which are from the state of Odisha.

The Indian government is preparing itself to deal with the Omicron sub-variant BF.7. Prime Minister Narendra Modi would assess the country's situation with Covid and other related issues on Thursday.

Indians have had many questions since four cases of the BF.7 variant were discovered in the country. Everyone is now terrified of a lockdown or peak waves, as India did during the previous COVID-19 outbreak.

Dr. Rakesh Mishra, a renowned scientist, former director of the CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), and director of the Tata Institute of Genetics and Society (TIGS) in Bengaluru, discusses whether or not Indians need to be concerned about the new Omicron BF.7 variant in an exclusive interview with NewsTAP.

What do we know about the BF.7 variant that is rapidly spreading in China?

This is not a particularly novel variant, but it is a subvariant of Omicron, which is highly infectious and constantly evolving. It will be very similar to many of the other properties we have seen.

Is the Omicron BF.7 variant more dangerous over earlier variants?

This is a common misconception that Omicron is not dangerous. However, we were safe because Indians were vaccinated and also exposed to prior variants, allowing us to cope with Omicron. The same Omicron is now affecting China because people are naive about virus exposure and are not vaccinated, both of which can be extremely dangerous. That is why we should not believe that Omicron is not dangerous. We are simply stronger now because we have been vaccinated, and many of us have received booster doses as well. So we have vaccine protection and herd immunity, and the variant that is terrifying China will not harm us. So we're safe because we were immunised, not because the virus isn't dangerous. We need to be cautious but not worried.

India is doing well now that the covid19 has subsided after two difficult waves, but what mistake has China made that they are experiencing a peak-wave again?

China is dealing with a number of issues. One of them is that they adhered to a very strict lockdown because they have dictatorial policies, which is why they adhered to a very strict lockdown and people are unable to oppose it. As a result, they implemented a zero covid policy, as a direct consequence of which they never received a wave after the first. But this policy cannot be maintained indefinitely, because people become frustrated. So what happened was that the majority of Chinese people did not see any virus after the first wave, which is why people are now extremely naive about virus exposure.

Another blunder was that they did not prioritise vaccination during this time, and their vaccine, according to reports, is subpar. And they are reopening at a time when Omicron is spreading at a much faster rate, causing a sudden infection surge that fills hospitals and makes treating all of the patients difficult. We experienced the same thing during the second wave, which is why the Chinese are in such trouble. They also did not develop herd immunity or hybrid immunity because, unlike the Chinese, we have been open for a long time and are vaccinated. So, we don't need to worry about anything right now.

It's been 3-4 days since it's reported that China is experiencing another wave, but the Indian government has yet to prohibit Chinese flights to India?

There is no need to be concerned about the COVID-19 situation in China or about Chinese flights arriving in India because, if we ban Chinese flights, the virus could arrive from any other country because the world is so small. It is advised to test the passengers rather than simply cancelling the flights.

What precautions should Indians take to avoid another Covid tragedy?

We do not need to be concerned about Omicron variant-induced mass infections because the majority of the vulnerable populations in this area have received a booster or precaution dose. People have hybrid immunity as a result of previous infection and vaccination. I simply advise people to wear masks when meeting new or unknown people or travelling in public places such as mass transit and trains. If you haven't already done so, take a booster dose.

Do you think it's best to avoid even gatherings during the festival season?

There is no need for a lockdown, but I recommend that people mask up as much as possible and take a booster dose if they haven't already.

Is genome sequencing useful in avoiding potential waves?

We are in a strong position, but we must be vigilant to monitor the cases and genome surveillance to know the status of the variants and what is happening. Genome sequencing is important because it allows researchers to determine whether or not a new variant exists. Surveillance methods that aid in the detection of new variants, such as frequent testing of sewage samples, should be expanded across the country because they provide early warning of any emerging dangers. Prevention is always better than cure - over trying to recover from a difficult situation.

Have you heard of many Indians avoiding vaccines or booster doses due to an increase in heart attacks caused by vaccines? What advice do you have for the people in this regard?

Vaccines are not dangerous and are extremely effective in preventing COVID infections in the country. People have studied and tested these vaccines, and the vaccines are extremely safe. It is extremely unfortunate that some people are not vaccinated because they are playing with the virus and endangering their family members' lives. Increased heart attacks in the country may not be due to vaccines, but rather to post Covid-19 side effects. Covid is not leaving and will remain in place, but we now have a better understanding of it and a system in place, so we don't have to worry about it. However, I recommend that everyone get vaccinated and get a booster dose if they haven't already.

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