• There is a fresh spike in COVID­19 cases in India, a surge that is attributable to at least three reasons. 
  1. One, the XBB.1.16 recombinant variant which has higher transmissibility in comparison to other circulating variants. 
  2. Two, the recent viral flu surge (H1N1 and H3N2 sub­types) which resulted in health­care providers recommending higher COVID­19 testing.
  3. Three, the availability of COVID­19 testing at low cost and the COVID­19 surge that is nudging people who have a cough and cold to get themselves voluntarily tested. 
  • This has sparked off discussion that a fresh wave is imminent in India.
  • In fact, since the last and third national COVID ­19 wave in January 2022, there have been a few spikes every now and then, with each episode triggering fears of a fresh wave.
  • Impact of ill­ informed discourse 
  • In the last three years, there has been another development that has been cause for concern. 
  • A few groups have emerged which continue to, and very vocally, argue that COVID­19 is very dangerous and has not gone. 
  • These groups, or the ‘Covid­forevers’, signature mark is that they do not want to discuss anything else other than COVID­19. 
  • Based largely in the West, the ‘membership’ of these groups is expanding in India. 
  • There is every epidemiological evidence to show that COVID­19 has become endemic in India. However, a disease becoming endemic does not mean zero cases or no seasonal surge. 
  • The last pandemic before COVID­19 was that of the swine flu (H1N1) pandemic, of 2009­-10. It was caused by influenza A virus new subtype H1N1. 
  • It was a pandemic that got over in 2010. Since then, the H1N1 subtype is causing a seasonal rise in flu cases, and is the most commonly circulating influenza A virus subtype. 
  • We need to be mindful that Any discussion about a fresh surge has a social impact in terms of creating panic and fear, apprehensions in parents about sending their children to school and on livelihoods. 
  • The burden of these indirect impacts is borne disproportionately by the poor, the disadvantaged and those whose voices rarely matter. 
  • Drop the old parameters to track disease 
  • One of the reasons for a fresh discourse on a wave is a new sub­variant XBB.1.16 (which essentially is a recombinant of the Omicron variant). 
  • Variants will continue to emerge, and thus we should embrace the rise and fall in COVID­19 cases. 
  • For a country with a population of 1.4 billion and with SARS­CoV­2 around, a certain number of cases will be reported on a sustained basis. 
  • Let us understand this using the example of tuberculosis (TB), another respiratory disease. Every day, an estimated 7,000 new TB cases happen in India. The bacterium for TB is far more stable while SARS­CoV­2 is prone to mutations and variants. 
  • Therefore, one of the first steps in India for the experts is to arrive at a consensus on the number of COVID­19 cases which are expected even when the disease is endemic.
  • It is time we start tracking, comparing and analysing COVID­19 data on a monthly and weekly basis for the calendar year. 
  • New dashboard indicators should begin tracking for the year 2023 onwards, which will give us an idea of trends — these were obliterated by cumulative data for the last three years.
  • The government should also put out this data in the public domain so that independent researchers and academicians can analyse and support the response process. 
  • COVID­19 has become endemic in India and the medical impact of the disease is low. But the virus is ubiquitous.  
  • At this stage, India’s response has to be calm and evidence guided.