The threat from Covid-19 seems to have gotten over as no new variant of concern has been detected in the past year, former Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) scientist Dr Raman Gangakhedkar told News18.com.
Almost a year ago, the World Health Organization designated Omicron as the variant of concern and since then, it continues to dominate across the globe with no new strain detected, so far.
The country’s top epidemiologist, who was the face of India’s apex medical research agency during government briefings on Covid-19 last year, said that “previously we have seen that new waves were coming almost every six months. But since last year, the same Omicron lineage continues”.
He said that “it is very unlikely” to expect that things will start working differently now.
According to Gangakhedkar, the world is seeing “convergent evolution” under which organisms evolve and produce different variants in response to drugs and/or the body’s immune pressure which includes vaccines and past infections.
“The coronavirus is evolving and changing itself over time – which is making it more infectious but less virulent,” he said.
Omicron was found to have 37 mutations over the initial Wuhan virus – which shows that the virus is “trying to bring so many changes to sustain in human beings to find stability”.
Today, across the globe, we have just one lineage – all siblings of the Omicron lineage which belong to the same family and mostly look alike but have slight changes.
“Now one year has passed since last November when Omicron was first spotted. Till this November, no other variant of concern has been spotted except Omicron’s different lineages grabbing the headlines. We have seen new evolutions but in the same family and that too, has not resulted in any increase in hospitalisation rate or severity,” said the expert.
New strains will keep coming as humans have pushed the virus to the wall as much as it was possible, Gangakhedkar said. “But as far as my understanding is concerned, there is no major threat now,” he added. “Deaths and hospitalisation, both are completely unaffected.”
‘Wearing a mask is a good lifestyle practice’
Gangakhedkar who has led many assignments on behalf of ICMR including the Nipah outbreak in Kerala – which showed mortality of more than 89% – advised that people who are elderly or have comorbid conditions must use masks in closed or crowded places.
“I also use masks in public get-togethers or functions. It’s for your own safety. It’s a matter of lifestyle and it’s nothing wrong or tiring to wear a mask,” he said.
Recent research indicates if one gets reinfected, however mild it may be, with them the risk of post-Covid syndrome increases, he said while adding that post-Covid syndrome is also less severe among those who take booster doses.
“Taking boosters and making efforts to reduce the risk of new infection are critical at least for vulnerable groups,” he added.
He advised that the government should focus on “one health surveillance” as it prepares to strengthen the surveillance to capture the next pandemic well in time.
“From zoonotic surveillance to other environmental surveillance, the government must start capturing the interface of human beings with all other species,” he said.
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