As variants of the SARS CoV-2 keep global health authorities on edge, experts caution about a possible increase in Covid-19 cases, though there is no indication currently that the off-shoots would cause a severe disease.

The sub-lineages are derivatives of Omicron, with more or less mutations, says virologist Dr Gagandeep Kang, calling for surveillance, including sequencing. “There is no indication that the new sub-lineages will cause more severe disease than any other virus we have seen previously, although an increased ability to spread and infect means that there will be more cases and slightly more hospitalisations where the population is generally older,” she told businessline

Recent spike attributed to Pirola

Globally, the World Health Organisation says, seven variants of the Covid-causing coronavirus are being monitored and the BA.2.86 (referred to in some quarters as Pirola), is one of them. The recent spike in some countries is being attributed to this sub-variant of Omicron.

In fact, as winter and the flu season approach, countries including the UK have advanced adult vaccination against Covid and flu, starting September 11. Authorities in several countries are bracing for the impact of Covid-19, flu and RSV (a respiratory virus), although the expectation is that it would be less severe.

Dr Kang explains, “all vaccines based on older strains give limited protection for a few months against the newer sub-lineage infections. Moderna has said their new booster, which will be available in the US this month, will give broader protection based on neutralisation data.”

In the Indian context, she said, “for any older individual, immunocompromised, etc, a booster shot will have some benefit, even though it is likely to be small. The problem is timing -- the effect of the booster is practically gone in three months, so the best time is before cases increase, which is unpredictable.” Dr Kang is Director Global Health, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Also read: Vaccination prior to Covid provides 60% protection against post-discharge mortality: ICMR paper

Winter is coming

Meanwhile, as the festival season and winter approach in India, hospitals are monitoring the evolving situation, say representatives. 

Dr Shuchin Bajaj, Founder-Director of the Ujala Cygnus group of hospitals, cautions that the infection in the short-term “behaves like a common-cold, but unfortunately long-term effects are still unknown”.

Pointing to instances of triple artery blockages and heart attacks in young people, he said, studies are being undertaken on the effects of long Covid. The coming months will see a spike in cases, said Dr Bajaj, with more people approaching the out-patient departments (OPD) of hospitals with respiratory diseases.

While vaccine-makers have reported that their vaccines are being updated to be variant-ready, Dr Bajaj advised those who were immuno-compromised to take a booster shot of the existing vaccines available in some hospitals. 

Watch. WHO Chief urges vigilance in COVID-19 fight amid concerns new variants

In countries such as Singapore, Japan or South Korea that have had multiple experiences with SARS and other viruses, it has become commonplace to find people wearing masks in public areas, he said, advising standard public health measures, including hand-sanitisation and distancing.