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India readies for surge in Covid infections from China

As the number of Covid-19 cases in China continues to surge, India has stepped up efforts to prepare for a similar explosion of the infection rate. Measures including ramping up the genome sequencing of Covid-positive samples to identify variants.

India saw a decline in the daily number of Covid cases this week. Official figures show the total number of infections at 44.7 million and more than 530,000 deaths.

However, with infection rates surging in several Asian countries, notably China, India has taken proactive measures to be ready for any contingency.

Last week, authorities conducted mock drills across a number of health facilities in several states to ensure their readiness.

"Covid cases are rising all over the world, and India might witness a spike in cases too," said Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya.

"Hence it is important that the entire infrastructure in terms of equipment, processes, and human resources are at a state of operational readiness."

The government earlier this week asked India's states to remain vigilant for variants of the coronavirus and urged people to wear masks in crowded areas, citing an increase in Covid-19 cases in China and other parts of the globe.

China's "zero covid" policy that initially saved lives has triggered a surge of cases and deaths in a population with little natural immunity and low levels of vaccination.

The Delhi government has made it mandatory for travellers arriving from China, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Thailand to produce a negative test result and ordered random testing of 2 percent of passengers on international flights to India.

With more than 90 percent of the adult population fully vaccinated by last July and more than a quarter of adults having received booster shots, there is little chance of India experiencing the wave of deaths witnessed in 2021, say experts.

Vigilance remains vital

"We have high vaccination coverage including among the elderly. What we don't have is very high booster uptake. But we have built up a good level of protective immunity at the population level," said Soumya Swaminathan, former chief scientist of the World Health Organisation.

The virus has mutated so much that health chiefs say the population must remain vigilant.

"We need to be proactive and sustain strengthening of surveillance mechanisms to detect new variants early enough and respond appropriately," Giridhara Babu, epidemiologist at Public Health Foundation of India told RFI.

The Indian SarsCoV-2 Consortium on Genomics, a network of laboratories monitoring genomic variations of the Covid-19 virus, also held a meeting this week to review data from China on the viral wave that has gripped the country.

The scientific community feels the focus in India should not be on daily new infections but only on any increase in hospitalisations, particularly ICU admissions.

According to the health ministry's website, more than 2.2 billion doses of Covid vaccine have been administered in the country so far under the nationwide vaccination drive.