With hospitalisation and number of deaths due to COVID-19 remaining miniscule for the past few months despite people largely not adhering to behavioural norms, experts feel the prevalence of the viral disease has reached its endemic stage. According to some experts, there is not much difference in the number of seasonal flu cases and that of COVID-19, even though they stressed that surveillance for newer variants should continue in the off chance of a new lineage of coronavirus catching the country off guard.
Currently, the symptoms of Covid and influenza are very similar and can said to be a flu-like syndrome and the treatment essentially remains supportive, former AIIMS director and a professor of pulmonology at the hospital, Dr Randeep Guleria said. Though cases especially in the high risk group may have relatively been more severe, currently the mortality is negligible and similar to what was being seen in this group before Covid, Dr Guleria told PTI.
“Looking at the current number of cases we can say Covid has almost reached the endemic phase. The number of cases coming to the hospital are almost equal or less than seasonal flu cases. Having got familiar with the aspects of the disease, people also have become complacent with the realisation that this particular Covid condition will now remain mild and not really lead to serious ICU care etc,” Dr Neeraj Gupta, a senior pulmonologist and additional medical superintendent of Safdarjung Hospital, told PTI.
Dr Gupta, however, stressed that vulnerable people such as the elderly and those having co-morbidities will still require similar precautions as is needed for other infections such as influenza and pneumonia. Dr Chandrakant Lahariya, a physician and an epidemiologist said, “What we need to remember is that every new variant does not automatically becomes a concern. There would be regular emergence of SARS CoV2 variants for long. These should be tracked and genomic sequencing should be done but there is no logic in starting the discussion on new wave with report of every new variant”.
“India is well past the major threat of severe impact of Covid. Disease has become endemic in the country and we should start handling and responding to SARS- CoV2 like any other viral disease,” Dr Lahariya said. According to NTAGI chief, Dr N K Arora it has been one year since Omicron was first described as a variant of concern and since then there has been over 70 sub lineages.
In the last nine to ten months, hospitalisation and deaths have not increased in India despite dynamic changes in the proportion of Omicron sub lineages across the country. Almost every sub lineage described anywhere in the world is also circulating in India without an increase in severe Covid cases. “Due to widespread Covid vaccination coverage and natural infection, we are in a relatively safe and comfortable situation as far as the pandemic is concerned .However, Covid is very much around us and we need to be careful lest the community is surprised with a severe disease causing Covid variant,” Dr Arora said.
An infection is said to be endemic in a population when that infection is constantly maintained at a baseline level in a geographic area without external inputs. The daily coronavirus cases in the country have been below 3,000 for the last 27 days, while the deaths have been below ten for the last 22 days.