India's overall COVID-19 cases remain low, though there has been an uptick in cases in the last week in several cities. Delhi, for example, is reporting rising COVID-19 cases among children in schools, which is a worrying sign.
India's top biomedical scientist Dr Gagandeep Kang said it is not known whether the XE variant is driving the rise in cases. "We don't necessarily know that all of the case that are being reported are of the XE variant unless we sequence them all," Dr Kang told NDTV today. "...It is only when we have all the pieces of the picture we can interpret data. People's data alone isn't sufficient," she said.
On what the world knows about the XE variant, Dr Kang said, "XE is a derivative of Omicron. In terms of what we know about Omicron, this is a virus that replicates more on the upper respiratory tract than in the lower respiratory tract, so the symptoms you would expect to see would be infection of the upper respiratory tract by and large, fever, restlessness, but not the kind of severe disease that put people to hospitals earlier."
"I think focussing on the symptoms and expecting the symptoms to tell us which variant we have is often a fallacy, even though it is quite frequently what is highlighted in the media. What you really need is clinical demographic information in addition to the sequence data that tell you which variant it is," Dr Kang said.
She said the gradual rise in cases cannot be yet called the onset of a fourth wave. "Saying so would be a stretch," Dr Kang said, adding people should be prepared for reinfections, whether they have been infected before or vaccinated.
On India's low cases despite surging numbers in other countries, Dr Kang said India's experience last year has left with a kind of hybrid immunity supplemented by vaccination. "We have got pretty good protection against a range of different kinds of viruses. This was clearly demonstrated in the Omicron wave," she said.
She added there is no scientific basis for the 9-month gap between the second dose and the booster dose.
Dr Kang indicated parents would do well not to worry too much as schools have opened.
"I think if you have to get a Covid infection the best time to get it is when you are a healthy child. Basically, children who are infected do not manifest with symptoms in the majority...Recent sero surveys indicate 80 per children have already been infected. We should not expect protection from infection. As the virus evolves, it is going to continue to evolve in ways that allow it to infect us again and again and again...This is particularly true for children.
"So the data that parents should be looking at is really not about the cases, or about the number of children who were detected to have infection, or about children who have had mild symptoms. It should really be among the infected children how many wound up needing hospitalisation? And we will see that those numbers are very very few.
"All the data we have in India shows that children who need hospitalisation have comorbidities of some kind or the other," Dr Kang told NDTV, adding urgent vaccination is needed for children under 12 who have comorbidities.
Dr Kang said all this data indicates that closing educational institutes in a panic would not be an ideal move.