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Top labs body says Omicron in community

2 yrs into pandemic, INSACOG recognises community transmission

By: Express News Service | New Delhi, Pune |
Updated: January 24, 2022 1:29:57 am
omicronThe consortium, in its January 10 bulletin uploaded on Sunday, also warned against screening for the Omicron variant based on the s-gene dropout. (File)

Two years into the coronavirus pandemic, India is now finally acknowledging that the disease is in community transmission stage. Recently released bulletins of INSACOG, the consortium of national laboratories that is tracking the different variants of the virus, has mentioned that Omicron is now spreading through community transmission.

“Omicron is now in community transmission in India and has become dominant in multiple metros, where new cases have been rising exponentially,” the latest bulletin, dated January 10 but released only now, has said.

“Further spread of Omicron in India is now expected to be through internal transmission, not foreign travellers, and a revised sampling & sequencing strategy of INSACOG is being worked out to address genomic surveillance objectives in the wake of dynamic changing scenario of virus infection,” an earlier bulletin, dated January 3 but also released now, said.

Community transmission simply means that the epidemic has become so widespread in a population group that it gets difficult, if not impossible, to determine who is passing on the infection to whom.

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Test and trace now difficult

The announcement is not hugely revelatory in the current situation in India, even though it is the first acknowledgment. It only means that the epidemic is so widespread that it is now difficult, if not impossible, to determine who is passing on the infection to whom.

The source and chain of infections can no longer be established. Determining the chain of infections is key to testing and containment strategy to be followed. Contact tracing, identification, testing and isolation of suspect cases are all dependent on establishing this chain.

This knowledge is most relevant during the early phase of the outbreak or start of a fresh wave after a prolonged lull. At the current stage of the pandemic, the question of community transmission is largely an academic one, and with little implication for the response measures that are being taken.

India is already reporting over 3.25 lakh new cases everyday. The actual number of infections is several times more than that, considering that Omicron has been spreading at a much faster rate than the previous variants. Even during the earlier waves, India was detecting only about one in 30 infections. For Omicron, this ratio is expected to be even higher. There is no way that in a situation like this the chain of infections can be established.

However, for the first two years of the pandemic, India had insisted that the disease had not reached community transmission stage. It had maintained that it was instead dealing with several cluster outbreaks.

The INSACOG bulletin said the threat level in India was “high” and “remains unchanged”. It also said that a new variant, B.1.640.2 that was first discovered in France, had not been detected in India so far. This variant, which, like Omicron, has a very large number of mutations, was flagged by some researchers a couple of weeks ago as a potential threat in future.

“The recently reported B.1.640.2 lineage is being monitored. There is no evidence of rapid spread and while it has features of immune escape, it is currently not a variant of concern. So far, no case has been detected in India,” the bulletin said.

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