Expect Covid surge cycles every 4 to 6 months, says WHO’s Dr Soumya Swaminathan

What worries Dr Swaminathan is that several ‘countries have reduced testing and genetic sequencing’

Expect Covid surge cycles every 4 to 6 months, says WHO’s Dr Soumya Swaminathan
Hence, she says, “it is possible to see repeated waves or surges of infection every 4 to 6 months, as we are seeing with BA.4 and BA.5 in USA many parts of the world.”

The concerns around COVID are evidently far from over. While most experts have been saying that the impact will not be severe leading to hospitalization and deaths, there will be infections.

Even anecdotally, there are often cases heard of people down with COVID. The official numbers in the country also talk of a total of over 19,000 new Covid cases in the last 24 hours. Dr Soumya Swaminathan, the chief scientist at the World Health Organisation (WHO) in an interview to FinancialExpress.com says this is to be expected and explains why. She says, “From what we know about this virus, we can expect SARS-Cov2 to continue to mutate and evolve – to be successful, each new variant will either have to be more transmissible, more immune evasive or both. It is also clear that our immune responses wane over a period of time (especially the neutralizing antibodies in blood).”

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Hence, she says, “it is possible to see repeated waves or surges of infection every 4 to 6 months, as we are seeing with BA.4 and BA.5 in USA many parts of the world.”

However, what worries her is that several “countries have reduced testing and genetic sequencing. Despite that, over 6.3 million weekly cases and over 12,000 deaths have been reported to WHO over the past several weeks, indicating that viral transmission is still active globally. It is clear that the pandemic toll is still very high and that we will have to stay on alert for the foreseeable future. The reassuring thing is that existing vaccines continue to provide protection against severe disease and death and that after a third dose, this protection appears to last.”

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Therefore, she says, “with high vaccination coverage (including boosters especially in high-risk groups), the health impact of future surges can be minimized.”

Among the dominant Omicron variants today, she says, based on the submissions to GISAID, there are “BA.4 and BA.5 globally. We know that BA.5 is good at evading immunity even among people who had BA.1 infections earlier this year. While hospitalisations have increased in some countries, overall, clinical severity is similar to previous Omicron variants,” she says.

On the transmission rate too, she says, “the R value of currently circulating Omicron variants is higher than previous ones. R is also affected by the preventive measures that people take and in many countries, masking and other precautions have been abandoned.”

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