Masking up again: Explaining the BF.7 Covid variant and how India is preparing to keep it at the bay!

For India, its immediate future might become its immediate past as the country is reeling in a jittery over the resurgence of the Covid pandemic in its neighborhood and in several countries. China, which was the epicenter of Covid that led to a global lockdown in the past, is now becoming a hotspot for the new variant as the cases are sharply surging in the Chinese territory, which reminisced the end of 2019, the time when Covid was in the verge of beginning. 

For the past three years, the world has changed upside down and most of the things that we unheard of became familiar and led us to a confined lifestyle. After embracing the pandemic and breathing normalcy, several countries have opened its borders and lifted up the Covid restrictions amid rolling out a massive vaccination drive. As far as India is concerned, though millions of citizens have vaccinated, the country is now on high alert over the spread of new Covid variant. 

As we are counting days to celebrate the New Year, it appears that we need to be masking up again and the Indian government has been preparing to resume the screening at the airports and to implement the Covid appropriate behaviour across the country. As the Union government and the state healthcare mechanisms are back in talks to keep the variant at the bay, let's take a look at the variant and how it is becoming a cause of concern. 

In what has been spelled as a possible four wave of Covid, the surge in China is leaving an ardent impact to its neighbours including India. The new strain has been named 'BF.7', which is an Omicron subvariant, and besides causing a sudden surge in China, this variant is also behind the increase of Covid cases in the United States, Japan, France, South Korea, and several other European countries. 

Though the scale of spread in India is not as worrying as in China, the government is aiming to leave no stone unturned as the health experts have warned that BF.7 variant is highly transmissible and has a higher capacity to cause reinfection or infect even those who have vaccinated. Due to the variant's high transmissibility, the UK Health Security Agency had called it one of the most concerning variants and back in India, the centre has instructed the states and Union territories to resume the Covid protocols to curb the spread. 

According to reports, BF.7 is short for BA., which is a sub-lineage of the Omicron variant BA.5. Along with the UK health agency, the health experts in China have also alarmed that the variant is quick in nature to get transmitted and the people who had contracted the virus as well as those who got their vaccines are vulnerable to get affected for this variant. The sudden surge in China and the events aftermath have showcased how the immediate future might be for the world.

The Chief of World Health Organization (WHO) has said that he is very concerned over evolving situation in China and that the China wave is wild card for ending Covid emergency. The health experts said that BF.7 has similar symptoms like Omicron - fever, sore throat, cough, vomiting, and diarrhoea. In the midst of the warning that this variant is capable of escaping immunity from vaccination, the countries are urging the people to get vaccinated and a booster. 

As China is expected to record more deaths in the wake of the variant, India is holding discussions to employ the guidelines as it is getting back to the battle. India has reported four cases of BF.7 variant so far of which three cases are from Gujarat and one from Odisha. Though several reports said that these cases were reported in October, the Union Health Ministry officials have affirmed that the first case of the variant in the country was reported in July. 

While instructing the people to wear masks in public places, the Indian government has said that there is no need to panic and that appropriate directions were given to officials to strengthen surveillance. With the view of preparing to curb the spread in the country, the Union Health Ministry had convened a review meeting on Wednesday after which the government has announced the resumption of random screening on the international passengers at all the airports in the country. 

After a review meeting, Union Health Minister tweeted, "COVID is not over yet. I have directed all concerned to be alert and strengthen surveillance. We are prepared to manage any situation." During the meeting, experts said that though there is no overall increase in Covid caseload as of now in India, it is imperative to keep continued surveillance. The Union government has also asked states to send samples to labs for genome sequencing, which can help identify the variant or sub-variant. 

In a letter to all the state governments, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said, "In view of the sudden spurt of cases being witnessed in Japan, United States of America, Republic of Korea, Brazil, and China, it is essential to gear up the whole genome sequencing of positive case samples to track the variants." Moreover, Dr VK Paul, the member of NITI Aayog, has advised people to resume the practice of wearing masks both indoors and outdoors. 

On Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has convened a high-level meeting and discussed about the new menacing variant of Covid and how the country needs to respond to keep it at the bay. The meeting was attended by the Union Ministers and likewise, several Chief Ministers had also held discussions to curb the spread in their respective states. ANI has quoted a source saying, "There are currently ten different variants of Covid-19 in the country, with the latest variant being BF.7. At present various variants of Omicron are spreading in the country and the Delta variant can still be seen in the country."