The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) statement on Wednesday reporting the first case of XE variant has rung alarm bells for India at a time covid-19 cases are declining steadily across the country. Mint takes a look at the implications:
What is the XE variant of covid-19?
The Omicron variant has many sub-lineages. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the XE variant is a recombinant of BA.1 and BA.2 sub-lineages. Omicron is a highly divergent variant with a high number of mutations, including 26-32 mutations in the spike protein, some of which are likely to be associated with humoral immune escape potential and higher transmissibility. WHO scientists have classified ‘XE’ variant while performing molecular epidemiology to track the changes in the circulating variants. It was first reported in the UK, with more than 600 verified samples across the world.
Does India have a case of XE variant?
On Wednesday, BMC declared the first case of XE variant in Mumbai, saying a 50-year-old person, who recently returned from South Africa, tested positive for it. Experts of Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) have studied the detected sample and opined that the genomic constitution does not correlate with the genomic picture of ‘XE’ variant, according to the health ministry. Scientists from National Institute of Virology, Pune, will now analyse the sample to reconfirm whether it is a XE variant and will submit the report to INSACOG, the authority in India to declare the presence of any new mutant in the country.
What do we know about the variant’s transmissibility?
WHO has stated that there is about 10% increase in the transmissibility rate of the variant. WHO and Indian scientists are still analysing this variant to predict what kind of behaviour it will exhibit. Meanwhile, scientists are urging people to use all preventive tools such as vaccines and masks. Physical distancing and avoiding crowded places will help, too.
Is the government concerned?
The suspected emergence of XE in Mumbai has raised alarm bells. Last month, the Centre asked all states and Union territories to start withdrawing orders under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, for covid-19 measures. The Centre also advised resumption of economic and social activities. Also, the majority of hospitals have turned their covid-19 wards into non-covid facilities. However, in the wake of covid cases emerging abroad, the Centre is monitoring all influenza-like illnesses and severe acute respiratory illness cases.
What do scientists say about XE?
Indian scientists are tracking the new mutant to understand what these changes mean. Dr Raman Gangakhedkar, a former scientist at the Indian Council of Medical Research, said countries such as UK, Italy, France, and Germany are reporting a surge in covid-19 cases because of the presence of Omicron. In India, people have developed hybrid immunity or immunity because of vaccination and infection. Therefore, there is no need to panic, he said. Also, it is too early to understand how the XE variant will challenge us.
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