Covid infections have exploded in China after the withdrawal of its ‘zero Covid’ policy early this month, yet again raising concern across the world. With little reliable information to go by, estimates of daily infections and deaths vary hugely from the official figures of 3,000 and 10, respectively, at one end of the scale, to Western estimates of daily cases and deaths at one million and 5,000, respectively. Both could be off the mark, given the motivation to suppress or blow up the numbers, as the case may be. But by all accounts, it is the relatively mild but a very infectious strain of Omicron, BF7, that is doing the rounds in China. India should be prepared and circumspect, but there is no cause for panic.

The Centre has taken the right steps so far. Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya has urged States to implement Covid-appropriate behaviour such as masking and physical distancing in public places, in the wake of the upcoming Christmas and New Year celebrations. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to assess the preparedness of health infrastructure and the vaccination programme. Going forward, there are some dos and dont’s for policymakers. As regards vaccination, 88 per cent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated but with Covid rapidly receding during the year, just 27-28 per cent have taken the booster shot. The Centre should assess its vaccine stocks, assure the public that there are no expired vials in circulation, and proceed to vaccinate senior citizens and immuno-compromised groups on priority. It is just as well that the Centre, on Friday, cleared the use of Bharat Biotech’s intranasal vaccine for inclusion in the vaccination programme. It is suited to Omicron variants that reside in the upper respiratory tract. It can be easily administered, unlike injectibles.

The Centre needs to do more than just random testing of 2 per cent of immigrant arrivals. It should instead quarantine travellers originating from China , through hubs such as Hong Kong and Singapore. Genome sequencing of Covid cases (now at less than 200 being reported daily in India) should be stepped up. The BF7 strain seems to have entered India about two months back, without having an impact, an indication that India’s natural (disease induced) and hybrid immunity (vaccination and disease induced) levels are satisfactory. This is not surprising, as India went through the worst of Covid in 2021 with no overall lockdown, and imposed no restrictions whatsoever in the wake of the Omicron wave at the start of the year. Today, epidemiologists concur that the current Covid wave poses no real threat to India, and that life can go on with the basic protocols in place.

But being vigilant is crucial. There’s just the chance that this extremely transmissible variant in China can morph into a more dangerous one. With mortality patterns and genome sequencing, this will be known soon, either way.