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COVID-19 surge due to Omicron sub-variants BA.4, BA.5 unlikely in India


NEW DELHI: Omicron’s BA.4 and BA.5 - the two sub-variants responsible for South Africa's ongoing fifth COVID-19 wave and have been listed as a ‘variant of concern’ - will not trigger another COVID-19 surge in India, said experts.

The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) has confirmed the presence of BA.4 and BA.5 variants of COVID-19 in India.  The cases were reported in two patients from Tamil Nadu and Telangana, respectively. 

While one of the patients, a 19-year-old woman from Tamil Nadu, “has been found infected with the BA.4 variant of SARS-CoV-2. The patient has shown only mild clinical symptoms and has been fully vaccinated; she had no travel history”.

The other patient is an 80-year-old man from Telangana who tested positive for the BA.5 variant of SARS-CoV-2. The patient has shown only mild clinical symptoms, has been fully vaccinated too and had no travel history either.

India's top virologist T Jacob John said he is not expecting any surge in COVID cases in India after the two Omicron sub-types were detected in India. "The two subtypes have been classified as variants of concern, but that is a bit of overkill. We are at the endemic stage now," he told The New Indian Express, adding that India's dominant variant during the third wave was BA.2 and that provided "some immunity" to fight against these two sub-variants.

On May 12, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reclassified the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants of the Covid-19 coronavirus as variants of concern (VOC), up from being variants of interest (VOI).

Dr Rajeev Jayadevan, a renowned epidemiologist and co-chairman of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), said, "I do not think a massive surge will happen. BA.4 and BA.5 are sublineages of Omicron and are not new variants."

"They caused the fifth wave in South Africa, but it settled down quickly. India has high levels of hybrid immunity and about 90 per cent adult vaccination coverage, which is much more than South Africa," he told The New Indian Express

During India's third wave of COVID-19, BA.2 was the dominant sub-variant, and it accounted for 62 per cent of the sequences from India over the last two months. Contact tracing of the BA.4 and BA.5 patients is being undertaken as a precautionary measure, the INSACOG has said.

The two Omicron sub-variants are circulating globally. They were reported first from South Africa earlier this year. These variants have not been associated with disease severity or increased hospitalisation.