China’s Covid surge – India on alert but no need to panic yet

Top virologist Jacob John says celebrate but stay alert

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As India goes on the alert in the wake of a reported surge in fresh Covid-19 cases and deaths in China, a top virologist has said there is no need to panic yet as India has already reached its endemic state and is holding steady.

Precautions such as masks, however, always help, said Dr T Jacob John, eminent virologist and emeritus professor of virology, at Christian Medical College, Vellore.

Amid the reports of the surge in China, India’s health minister Mansukh Mandaviya held a review meeting on 11 December, after which the government advised wearing masks and social distancing in crowded places. “Covid is not over yet. I have directed all concerned to be alert and strengthen surveillance. We are prepared to manage any situation,” he tweeted. 

States have been advised to step up surveillance and be prepared for any kind of situation. The states have also been asked to send samples to labs for genome sequencing to help identify a variant or sub-variant.

Prime minister Narendra Modi is also reviewing the situation. A few states such as Karnataka and Maharashtra have decided to screen and test international travelers.

In an email chat with, Jacob said India reached the ‘endemic’ stage in late February and early March and holding it even now. “So, in my opinion, there is no need to be scared. Of course, we must keep watching the situation.”

Jacob, however, stressed the need to strengthen the vaccination program, explaining how that less than 72% of the population received the second dose and about only 17% got the booster shot.

Our Covid-19 profile was not much modulated by vaccination, and sadly there is no government policy on vaccination or booster dose. The government gave opportunities for vaccination but the choice was entirely an individual’s. Some situations such as air travel demanded vaccination and these helped,” Jacob said.

Covid surge or not, the wearing of masks is always a good idea when in a crowd, he says. “So please go ahead and celebrate, but wearing a mask in crowds is a good idea. Wear one in buses, trains, and bazaars, not necessarily in regular shopping, etc, unless crowded. This is also to reduce the risk of inhaling any of the many respiratory viruses and bacteria always going around,” Jacob said.

The latest alert has been triggered by media reports that alleged a “huge surge” in the number of cases in China and a “large” number of deaths, prompting World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to express concern. Ghebreyesus asked China to provide a detailed report on the situation and vaccinate the people. There has been also a spurt in Japan, US Korea, and Brazil.

Indian experts suggest the surge could be because China has opened after long lockdowns and restrictions and hasn’t reached its “herd immunity stage” yet. Others questioned the efficacy of Chinese vaccines and said how China’s isolation is working against it.

According to Jacob, the China situation is quite puzzling since the official numbers are quite low. “Their Omicron wave peaked on 10 December and since then the case numbers are steadily coming down. The stories about crematoriums not able to cope with numbers and ‘million deaths expected’, etc., are quite unreliable.”

Jacob was referring to projections from the US-based Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) that says China’s abrupt lifting of restrictions could result in an explosion of cases and over a million deaths through 2023.

Omicron (even the present Chinese BA 5 and BA 7 variants) are non-killer infections and the crematorium story, if true, is not due to Covid-19,” Jacob suggested.


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