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As parts of Asia and Europe including China and South Korea witness a steady rise in daily COVID cases, primarily triggered by the highly mutated Omicron (BA.2) variant of COVID-19, experts in India are constantly trying to understand whether the variant can cause a fourth wave in the country. Meanwhile, Maharashtra, the worst-affected state during the previous waves in the country, has been put on high alert, with the state government urging people to follow COVID protocol strictly.
Speaking to the media, Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope said, "We have received a letter from Central Govt to be on alert as there is a surge in COVID cases across European Countries, South Korea, and China. Accordingly, our health department had issued a letter to DCs to be cautious and take necessary steps."
In a letter to the Maharashtra municipal commissioners and district collectors, Dr. Pradeep Vyas, additional chief secretary (health) wrote, "In the past 24 hours, some countries have recorded the highest ever new Covid cases since the beginning of the pandemic two years ago. Some new variant is suspected to be fuelling infections in Israel and other countries."
Some of the suggestions made in the letter to contain the virus spread are:
Urging common people to not let their guards down, Maharashtra Public Health Minister Rajesh Tope said, "Looking at the new surge in coronavirus cases in South Korea, China, and Europe, we can not let our guard down as yet. We can not be careless. Everyone must continue taking precautions, that is all we can do."
Omicron (BA.1), the highly mutated version of COVID-19, was first detected in South Africa in 2021. The virus mutated further to form another contagious strain BA.2, the current dominant variant globally. The variant has over 30 worrisome mutations in its spike protein which makes it possible to evade through vaccine-induced immunity.
A few weeks back, a team of researchers from IIT Kanpur had predicted that India will face the fourth wave of COVID-19 in mid-June or early July, which will eventually see its peak in August. This is the same team of researchers who had predicted the second wave in India.
However, other experts have said that the model needs to be studied further. NITI Aayog Member (Health) V K Paul said that the IIT Kanpur study is a "valuable input" produced by eminent people. "But, it is yet to be examined whether this particular report has any scientific worth."
Eminent virologist Dr. T Jacob John, former ICMR chief, pointed out that he is "fairly confident" that chances of another coronavirus surge is bleak "unless an unexpected variant that behaves differently comes up." The former ICMR chief also noted that third wave of COVID-19 has ended in India.
Tamil Nadu, too reported a surge in cases associated with the highly contagious Omicron BA.2 variant. The Tamil Nadu public health department has in a statement said that BA.2 Sub variant of Omicron was identified in 18.4 per cent of the samples sequenced in the state from January to March 2022. The health department also said that Omicron was the dominant variant in circulation in the state. The Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) at the State Public Health Laboratory showed that 93 per cent of the 496 variants sequenced in the state were of Omicron variant.
Talking about the steps the state government is taking in order to contain the spread of the virus variant, Health Minister, Ma Subramanian has said that vaccination is the only solution for curbing the 4th wave of Covid-19. The Tamil Nadu Health Minister said, "IIT Kanpur has stated that the fourth wave is likely to hit after June and we cannot rubbish anything. Cases are on the rise globally."
Subramanian said that South Korea is adding 4 lakh cases per day among Asian countries while the UK and the US are also witnessing an increase in cases per day. The state added 56 new coronavirus cases, pushing the overall caseload to 34,52,390.
Meanwhile, India saw a single-day rise of 1,549 new coronavirus cases, taking the infection tally to 4,30,09,390, while the active cases have further declined to 25,106, the Union health ministry said on Monday.
(With inputs from Agencies)
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