Expert says new COVID XE variant not more severe than Omicron

"We were worried about BA.2 but it did not cause a more serious disease than BA.1. XE does not cause more serious disease than BA.1 or BA.2 (sub-variants of Omicron)," said Dr Gagandeep Kang, Professor at Christian Medical College in Vellore

PTIUpdated: Friday, April 08, 2022, 11:49 AM IST
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Representational Image | World Health Organisation

The new XE variant of the coronavirus is not a matter of concern as it is not likely to cause any more severity than other sub-variants of Omicron, Dr Gagandeep Kang, Professor at Christian Medical College in Vellore, said on Thursday, April 7. "Variants will come because people are travelling. What we know of the variant (XE) is that it is not a point of concern," Kang said.

"We were worried about BA.2 but it did not cause a more serious disease than BA.1. XE does not cause more serious disease than BA.1 or BA.2 (sub-variants of Omicron)," she said on the sidelines of a panel discussion organised by Gupta-Klinsky India Institute of the Johns Hopkins University here. She added that in a vaccinated population, XE variant is not something to be bothered about.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a warning against XE, a new variant of Omicron first detected in the UK. It has suggested that it could be more transmissible than any COVID-19 strain so far. XE is a combination or recombinant of both sub-variants (BA.1 and BA.2) of Omicron.

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has said it has detected India's first case of XE infection in Mumbai. However, the Union Health Ministry said that the sample which is being said to be 'XE' variant was analysed in detail by genome experts of the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG), who have inferred that the genomic constitution of this variant does not correlate with the genomic constitution of XE variant.

When asked about her views on administering booster doses to populations below 60 years, Kang said that the country doesn't have enough data to establish the effectiveness of booster doses among people younger than 60 years.

Director General of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Balram Bhargava echoed a similar view on booster dose and said, "I agree with Dr Kang. The panel discussion was held on the theme, 'Applying Lessons Learned from COVID for a Stronger Health System'." Dr Bhargava said that the greatest thing India learnt from COVID-19 was that it became self-confident. "We got self-confidence that our healthcare system can deliver," he said.

He acknowledged that there was a need to strengthen the primary healthcare system to tackle such situations in future. "We need to invest more in the primary health care system and impart good training which is much needed. We need good MBBS doctors with proper training," Bhargava said. He also said that awareness is needed among people about the disease and the cure.

Speaking on the occasion, Amitabh Kant, CEO, NITI Aayog, said that the pandemic has shown the need for efficient healthcare delivery. "The need of the hour is technology and research solutions that provide data-based information quickly so that we can make sound health decisions swiftly -- both during a pandemic and for ongoing health challenges. With our collective focus, it can really grow in India,” he said.

Chief of Division of Infectious Diseases at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine Amita Gupta said that a multi-pronged approach is needed to tackle pandemic-like situations in future. “We need to invest more in science. We need the government, private sector and the civil society to come together and be prepared to provide primary health care. India and the United States have a long way to go in making things better in the public health workforce,” Gupta said.

President, Public Health Foundation of India, Srinath Reddy said the country needs a system capable of providing comprehensive healthcare. Primary healthcare system needs to be strong enough so that we don't have missed opportunities of early detection and treatment, he said.

Founder Chairman and Managing Director of Medanta, Dr Naresh Trehan, said that no country could have ever been prepared for a catastrophe like this. "To predict and prevent is better than cure and repent. There are more than one lakh ASHA workers. This is a big resource that remains under-utilised. We need to impart them good training,” Trehan said.

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