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XBB.1.16 variant 'new kid on the block', could be driving recent Covid surge: Ex-AIIMS director

India Today 22-03-2023 India Today Health Desk
XBB.1.16 variant 'new kid on the block', could be driving recent Covid surge: Ex-AIIMS director © Provided by India Today XBB.1.16 variant 'new kid on the block', could be driving recent Covid surge: Ex-AIIMS director

Former All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Director Dr Randeep Guleria said the new XBB.1.16 variant could be driving the recent rise of Covid cases in India. As the virus keeps mutating, new variants will keep emerging. The XBB 1.16 is sort of a "new kid on the block", said Randeep Guleria in an interview on Wednesday.

He further emphasised that there was no reason to fear as long as there were no serious illnesses and deaths.

"... As long as they don't lead to severe illness, hospitalisation and deaths, it is alright because it helps in giving some degree of immunity to the population if they have a mild illness," added the pulmonologist.

His comments came on a day when Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a review meeting on Wednesday to review the Covid situation in the country. PM Modi also reviewed public health preparedness in today's meeting. 

According to Dr Guleria, who was part of the national Covid task force, the virus evolves over time, and this happens both with Covid and influenza. "This is known as an antigenic drift," said Dr Randeep Guleria.

"If we remember when we had the Covid outbreak, it started off with Alpha, Beta, Gamma Delta and Omicron variants," he stated.

The pulmonologist further said, "So the virus kept on changing. Luckily, if we look at what has happened in the last one year, we have got variants which are basically sub-lineages of Omicron only."

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"So it seems the virus has stabilised a little bit. It is not changing as rapidly as it was in the past," Dr Guleria added. It will gradually evolve, mutate a little bit and new variants will emerge, he added.

Can XBB 1.16 drive a fresh wave of cases?

According to Dr Guleria, there might be a surge in the number of cases, but then they may be underreported. Dr Guleria thus advised that those who test positive, must report because that will help policymakers to know the actual numbers and plan a strategy accordingly.

"Now even if they have flu-like symptoms, most people don't get themselves tested. Some use the rapid antigen test, and even if they are positive they do not report it. So, the number we are actually reporting may be less than the actual number in the community," he said.

Dr Guleria also stated there is a need for active surveillance both at hospital and community levels to find out whether there is an increase in number of cases and hospital admissions. "This can help authorities to implement containment strategies and other public health measures on time," he noted.

ALSO READ | India records over 1,000 new Covid-19 cases in past 24 hours

Meanwhile, India recorded 1,134 new coronavirus cases, the highest in 138 days, while the active cases increased to 7,026, according to the Union Health Ministry data updated on Wednesday. The death toll has climbed to 5,30,813 with five new deaths.

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