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Covid XE variant confirmed; no cause for alarm, say officials

There was no official confirmation on where the XE sample was obtained from. But of the two unconfirmed cases reported earlier from the two states, the official said the sample from Maharashtra was not of the new sub-variant.

Written by Anonna Dutt | New Delhi |
Updated: May 3, 2022 7:12:26 am
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WEEKS AFTER two unconfirmed cases were reported from Maharashtra and Gujarat, the country’s first case of Omicron sub-variant XE has been confirmed by the Indian SARS-CoV2 Genomics Sequencing Consortium (INSACOG), a network of national testing laboratories set up by the Government.

As of now, experts say, there is no evidence to suggest that a Covid infection from the XE sub-variant is different from those caused by the other Omicron sub-lineages. The new sub-variant has been found to be only about 10 per cent more transmissible than the currently dominant BA.2 variant of Omicron, which triggered the third Covid wave in the country in January.

“Less than a handful of recombinant variants have been detected in the country so far. All of them are from geographically disparate regions. No cluster formation has been seen,” a Government official told The Indian Express.

There was no official confirmation on where the XE sample was obtained from. But of the two unconfirmed cases reported earlier from the two states, the official said the sample from Maharashtra was not of the new sub-variant.

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The XE confirmation — in INSACOG’s weekly bulletin — comes at a time when there has been an increase in Covid cases in 12 states, leading to mask mandates. There has, meanwhile, been a decline in cases too in 19 other states, according to Government data till April 25.

The INSACOG bulletin states that the “Omicron (BA.2) is the dominant variant in India till date”.

The XE variant is a “recombinant”. This means it contains the mutations found in BA.1 as well as BA.2 variants of Omicron, and was first discovered in the UK in January. The random process of genetic mutations in viruses and other organisms is a common occurrence. Only a small fraction of these mutations significantly alter the abilities of the virus to infect, or to cause severe diseases.

The INSACOG bulletin also confirmed at least two sub-lineages of the BA sub-variant — BA2.10 and BA2.12. These sub-variants were first reported in Delhi two weeks ago.

Dismissing any reason for concern, the Government official said that it is “a fun exercise for molecular epidemiologists to record all the changes in the virus”. “But it has no public health significance unless we see it spreading faster, affecting a different population, or causing severe disease,” the official said.

Asked about the new rise in cases in some regions, including Delhi, the lab investigator pointed out that it “is not as sharp as seen during the Delta or the Omicron wave”.

“The infection is likely now following the trajectory of other respiratory infections — they tend to increase when seasons are changing,” the investigator said.

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