A health worker collects a swab sample for Covid-19 screening from a passenger arriving at Prayagraj junction. (AFP)

A health worker collects a swab sample for Covid-19 screening from a passenger arriving at Prayagraj junction. (AFP)

Dr Samiran Panda, who retired from ICMR as an additional director general this year, said Indians’ ‘hybrid immunity’ due to the wide vaccination coverage and previous history of natural infection would shield them from a fresh wave

The Omicron BF.7 sub-lineage is fast in transmission but not at all furious, a former scientist at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has told News18.com.

According to Dr Samiran Panda, presently the ICMR-Dr AS Paintal Distinguished Scientist Chair, the Centre should focus on busting the misleading information around the lethality of the BF.7 sub-lineage.

While the government is rightly focusing on all the important aspects — starting from hospital beds and medicines to boosters — Panda said it should also keep an eye on “the communication strategy, especially on busting fake, misleading information”.

“There is a sense of panic among people with loads of videos and messages going around on social media platforms and ‘WhatsApp University’ about the BF.7 variant and symptoms caused by the same,” said Panda, the former head of the epidemiology and communicable disease division at ICMR.

Panda retired from ICMR as an additional director general this year.

He emphasised that the government and other responsible institutions must focus on communication practices and fact-checking to avoid “unnecessary panic”.

“They must communicate that the new variant is fast (in spreading) but not furious (not lethal),” he said, adding: “The same variant was detected in India with just three-four cases and they all recovered well.”

It is the virus’ natural way of progression that it becomes more transmissible with evolutions but its virulence generally goes down. “It is the sub-lineage of Omicron and there is no scientific proof till now that it is lethal and leads to mortality,” he said.

‘India will not become another China’

Indians have “hybrid immunity” due to the wide coverage of vaccination and previous history of natural infection, he said.

“In fact, the Centre too has strong experience in handling Covid-19 waves and applying the learnings gained in the last 2.5 years,” Panda said.

He echoed the observation of other experts that there is no need to panic but “just be vigilant”.

“India is not going to become second China. Our two-dose vaccination coverage is quite decent. There were some people who were reluctant or hesitant to get the precautionary or booster dose,” he said.

Panda added that “it is expected those people might now think of getting their pending booster shots”. “It is human behaviour that we don’t act unless we have some sort of fear. Booster shots are important, especially for the elderly, people with co-morbidities and even obesity.”

What is wrong with China?

Panda believes that people in China, who were vulnerable due to the zero Covid-19 policy, have been suddenly exposed to the virus.

“China, New Zealand and Australia were the three countries that chose the zero Covid-19 policy. However, with time, New Zealand and Australia realised that it was not pragmatic. It dawned upon them that if 100 infections have been reported, around 60 to 80 per cent of people would remain asymptomatic. Hence, putting such restrictions would obviously lead to criticism.”

Reading the China scenario, Panda said, “One of their two vaccines had shown lower efficacy and there is no clarity on the status of their vaccination coverage as well. Otherwise, Covid-19 vaccines across the world are disease-modifying vaccines so the way people are suffering from severe disease due to the Omicron variant in China is slightly questionable or needs more clarification.”

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