Anecdotal evidence thus far suggests that the symptoms are not any graver, which leads to the conclusion that a wave of hospitalisations
China has blown its Covid control strategy to the extent that a global uptick of fresh cases is projected. Since recriminations may lead to nothing in such a situation, India finds it has a lot to do regarding checking of the preparedness of Covid-19 and healthcare. A dummy run on the infrastructure has been carried out in major cities and in rural centres, but it remains to be seen if indeed the case numbers turn out to be explosive in the spike expected from January onwards.
The BF.7 is the runaway pathogen in the Chinese outbreak of 2022, and it is going to dominate the narrative from here on as it may not take much time for the strain to land anew in India, even though four cases were reported in mid-2022, in Gujarat and Odisha. Anecdotal evidence thus far suggests that the symptoms are not any graver, which leads to the conclusion that a wave of hospitalisations and deaths, as reported during the Delta wave, is unlikely to recur.
The sweeping nature of one of the most infectious viruses the world has known calls for caution and preparedness. The study of trends suggests that January 2023 might be the crucial month. While there is no need to panic over the size of the spike, said to be running into millions of fresh cases per day in China currently, there is certainly a need to study the variant and gauge the effectiveness of the current leading vaccines used in India vis-a-vis this variant.
The BF.7 sub-lineage of the Omicron strain is known to be several times more infectious than previous variants, but it may not be any deadlier. To dismiss it as a common cold as many who have not suffered would, however, be unwise. But to build it up into an ogre on top of China’s failures, in the wake of a policy flip-flop that saw all Covid protocols abandoned and international travel into and out of China also to open, would be equally unwise.
If there is one lesson that the virus taught us in three years is that lockdowns do not work. They lock down the people and not the virus. China remained stubborn about refusing to learn this important lesson and is suffering more now because the people had no opportunity to pick up natural immunity with exposure. India’s vaccine programme and the opening of the economy were the best ways to go as the negligible caseload per million people showed over the whole of 2022.
A few states have made the wearing of face masks compulsory in public places. Though compliance is bound to be sluggish, people should know that the first line of defence against the virus is the mask. The ramping up of critical care units with ventilators and oxygen supply should be a priority for the health care system. The booster programme will be entirely voluntary but frontline workers, elders and the vulnerable should realise that vaccines, including a nasal vaccine, are readily available.
To be prepared to face a spike through the BF.7 variant, if it comes as science is predicting, is the indicated course. Appropriate behaviour aligned to Covid protocols is called for from the people if the greater community is not to suffer once again.