New Delhi: The increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in the country over the last few days should not be a cause for panic, health experts said on Saturday, highlighting that no new variant of concern has been found and the rise so far is limited to a few districts.
They also pointed out towards non-adherence of Covid-appropriate behaviour and people being unenthusiastic about getting the booster dose, which possibly has increased the pool of population susceptible to the infection.
Seventeen districts in the country, including seven in Kerala and five in Mizoram, are reporting a weekly Covid positivity rate of more than 10 per cent, while in 24 districts, including seven in Kerala and four each in Maharashtra and Mizoram, the weekly positivity rate is between five and 10 per cent, an official source said.
"First of all, we have not found any new variant of concern. India now has BA.4 and BA.5, in addition to BA.2, which have a slightly higher transmissibility as compared to the other Omicron sub-lineages," Dr N K Arora, chairman of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI), told PTI.
In addition, there is increased mobility due to the summer holidays, easing of travel restrictions both nationally and internationally and full-fledged opening up of economic activities, because of which there has been a spread of the infection among vulnerable individuals.
"There is another dimension to it and that is, the infection is limited to metros and big cities with a high population density. The important thing is that most of the people who are getting infected these days are immunised and have common cold and a mild influenza-like illness.
"There is no need to panic, but one must remember that Covid is very much around us and we need to adhere to Covid-appropriate behaviour and particularly, avoid crowded places and also make masks an integral part of our day-to-day living," Dr Arora said.
With a single-day rise of 8,329 cases, India's COVID-19 tally climbed to 4,32,13,435 on Friday, according to the Union health ministry.
The top 10 states and Union territories of concern in terms of an increasing positivity rate are Kerala, Mizoram, Goa, Maharashtra, Delhi, Haryana, Sikkim, Chandigarh, Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh.
Six states and Union territories -- Kerala, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Delhi, Haryana and Tamil Nadu -- have more than 1,000 active Covid cases.
AIIMS Director Dr Randeep Guleria said although there is a rise in the number of cases, there is no associated increase in hospitalisation or deaths. Also, the rise is limited to certain geographical areas.
"So the rise in the number of cases is not a cause of worry at the moment. But we should not let our guard down and must focus on aggressive testing so as not to miss out on any emerging variant.
"Also, complacency has set in among people towards following Covid-appropriate behaviour. In addition, some people who are due for a precaution dose are not taking it, which possibly has increased the pool of susceptible population," Guleria said.
Studies conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and other international research institutions have suggested that the antibody level wanes after around six months of the primary vaccination with both doses and giving a booster increases the immune response.
"We need to remember that COVID-19 is not over yet and there is a need to ensure complete vaccination of all individuals, including precaution doses. Vaccination prevents severe infections, hospitalisation and death," Dr Nivedita Gupta, who heads the epidemiology and communicable diseases division at the ICMR, said.
"The rise so far is limited to certain districts and is localised, but it is important to ensure proper containment efforts, restrictions, social distancing and Covid-appropriate behaviour in those areas to control the spread of the infection. There has to be a robust generation of local data, which needs to be further examined for appropriate decision making at the local level," she added.