Covid surge in China leads to fears of fresh wave in India

As end of Beijing's strict zero-Covid policy causes rise in cases, India is taking no chances

Samples are tested at a Covid-19 genome sequencing lab in New Delhi. Bloomberg
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India will test all samples from patients found to have Covid-19 as fears grow of another wave after a rise in cases in China and other countries.

In a renewed attempt to track new strains, the Health Ministry asked all state governments to gear up to test samples. They must ensure all positive samples are sent for genome sequencing every day at the government laboratory network, known as Insacog.

It has 50 labs across the country and was set up during the pandemic in 2020 to study and monitor genome sequencing and virus variants circulating in the country.

A meeting by the health minister was scheduled to review the administration's readiness to tackle any rise in Covid cases, which fell to 131 on Wednesday, according to ministry figures.

India suffered waves of Covid-19 after the global pandemic took hold in early 2020, killing at least 530,000 and infecting around 44 million in the world's second most populous nation.

But cases have fallen in recent months due to vaccination drives and herd immunity. Most coronavirus protocols have been lifted nationally.

Federal Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said being better prepared will allow the fast detection of newer variants and lead to the right public health measures.

“In view of the sudden spurt of cases being witnessed in Japan, the United States of America, the Republic of Korea, Brazil and China, it is essential to gear up the whole genome sequencing of positive case samples to track the variants,” Mr Bhushan said.

“Early detection, isolation, testing and timely management of suspected and confirmed cases to detect and contain outbreaks is of crucial importance.”

It is likely that the government will introduce new guidelines for passengers travelling from abroad to block incoming cases during the New Year celebrations.

Volunteers push a stretcher carrying what appears to be a body bag in front of a 'fever clinic' in Beijing. EPA

Globally, cases have remained stable at 3.3 million in a week. But China has been battling a new wave with a surge in daily cases — a month after the government ended nearly three years of lockdowns, quarantines and mass testing.

It officially reported 3,100 new symptomatic Covid cases on Tuesday, taking the total caseload to 386,276.

Unverified images on social media and television channels showed hospitals flooded with patients, some lying on the floor, and workers in hazmat suits working at crematoriums that are reportedly overwhelmed with bodies.

Eric Feigl-Ding, an American health expert, warned of a “thermonuclear bad” situation in the country.

He wrote on Twitter: “One-two million deaths in China is a very common number lately — I’ve seen the models — it’s certainly possible. It could be higher if the government doesn’t do anything, lower if the government curbs virus with heavy mitigations again.”

China had been following a zero-covid policy for the past three years, since the pandemic started in Wuhan.

It had implemented extremely restrictive measures to suppress even small outbreaks of the virus. Experts blame these measures for the lack of immunity resulting from natural infection among its population.

It put even asymptomatic people in hospital if they tested positive and kept suspected cases and all their contacts in a state of long isolation.

“In the absence of population-wide immunity from natural infection, this puts a large number of individuals at risk,” said Dr Rajeev Jayadevan of the Indian Medical Association.

China has administered almost 3.5 billion doses of vaccine to its 1.41 billion population but vaccination booster rates are low among over-80s.

As well as China, Japan, the US, Korea and Brazil have recorded a rise in cases in recent weeks.

Updated: December 21, 2022, 8:54 AM