Sunday, April 30, 2023

Has India already beaten the super-infectious new Covid variant?

India may have already beaten the Arcturus wave, according to data that destroys fears surrounding the super-infectious Covid variant.

A huge explosion in cases across the country over the past month left hospitals braced for a surge of infected patients. Some of the worst-affected states even brought back mandatory face masks out of precaution. It sparked concerns that Britain could be hit by a similar fate.

Yet India's once-spiralling curve may have petered out before it ever had a chance to overwhelm the nation. Cases now appear to be in decline, experts on the ground have claimed.

Paediatrician Dr Vipin Vashishtha, based in the north of the country, who was one of the first to raise the alarm about Arcturus when he warned it may trigger conjunctivitis in kids, said data suggests the resurgence has already 'peaked'.

Prominent Covid experts today told MailOnline the U-turn in cases was proof that concerns over XBB.1.16, as it is scientifically known, were overblown.

They also insist there's no proof the strain is any more severe than others circulating.

Professor Robert Dingwall, who advised the Government on the virus during the pandemic, also told MailOnline: 'We have to stop jumping at every new Covid variant that comes along unless there is solid evidence that we have poor immunity to it. 'We need to be treating Covid like any other influenza-like illness.'

Despite Covid cases having spiked in recent weeks, hospitals are not yet seeing huge crowds. Most patients in New Delhi — which was the epicenter during previous peaks — are elderly or battling underlying conditions.

Fearing a repeat of last year's carnage, hospitals around India conducted drills to check Covid readiness in the face of spiralling Arcturus figures.

More than 30,000 hospitals across India took part in the Covid mock drill, which involved checking availability of beds, ventilators and oxygen cylinders in the event they were overwhelmed.

In an anticipation of chaos, many provincial governments have made masks mandatory again. That includes in Mumbai, where all patients, visitors and employees at hospitals must don coverings.

Professor Francois Balloux, a vocal Covid commentator throughout the pandemic, from University College London, also told MailOnline he was 'not worried' about the variant.

'I don’t think anyone should be panicking over it, wherever they may live in the world,' he said.

'As long as we’re facing related Omicron variant lineages, replacing each other over time, we should be fine, whatever fancy name they may be given. Summer is coming. 'There’s no ugly variant raising its head and Covid should rank low among peoples’ concerns right now.

'As long as the Omicron lineage predominates - whatever variant - there will be cases, but no big nasty wave.

'If and when, the World Health Organization (WHO) decides that an emerging SARS-CoV-2 lineage should be given a new Greek letter name, things will become more serious.'

He added: 'That said, we’ll never be back to early pandemic ‘square one’, as protection against severe symptoms and deaths, provided by vaccination and prior infections will remain, long-term, whatever variant SARS-CoV-2 may throw at us in the future.'

The strain, which was first identified by the WHO in January, saw cases in India explode 90-fold within weeks.

India was logging over 10,500 Covid cases earlier this week, according to Oxford University-run platform Our World in Data.

This is up from the 160 in late February, when the variant began to gather pace. But as of April 28, this had dropped to 10,100.

Data also suggested Arcturus it made up two thirds of all cases in the country.

Dr Vipin Vashishtha, consultant paediatrician at the Mangla Hospital and Research Centre, and former official at the Indian Academy of Paediatrics, also tweeted: 'Is the peak of Indian Covid surge led by XBB.1.16 Arcturus already over? Yes the data suggests so.'

He added: 'The outbreak probably peaked around week 13/14. Therefore it's slowing down.'

India's drills and masks were a grim reminder of how the country was devastated by the Delta wave in 2021, with a total of 4.7million excess deaths, according to WHO estimates.

The nation's health system was overwhelmed by a surge of cases triggered by that Covid variant, with some hospitals even running out of oxygen.

Nowadays the illness caused by the Covid more closely resembles that of the flu, unlike during the earliest days of the pandemic.

But XBB.1.16 does have three extra mutations on its spike protein, which may help it dodge the body's natural defences.

And doctors on the front line in India have also claimed they've seen a rise in infected children with conjunctivitis, suggesting Arcturus may be causing different symptoms to other variants.

A study published on Friday also revealed the variant has been shown to increase the risk of the eye condition among children under one-year-old.

Led by Dr Vashishtha, the research found young infants were disproportionately affected than older children.

'One interesting finding was the presence of itchy, non-purulent conjunctivitis with mucoid discharge and stickiness of eyelids in 42.8 per cent of positive infants,' Dr Vipin, who also sits on the WHO's vaccine safety net, said.

The study of 25 children seen between April 4 and April 16 found the youngest case was a 13-year-old newborn baby.

But none of the children required hospitalisation.

Professor Paul Hunter, an expert in infectious diseases from the University of East Anglia, also told MailOnline today: 'Covid has previously been reported as causing conjunctivitis even back in 2020.

'Also many other respiratory viruses, especially adenoviruses, can cause conjunctivitis so not that surprising. Most cases of viral conjunctivitis are mild and recover of their own.

'The issue is excluding another cause of the conjunctivitis that has to be treated more aggressively.'

He also warned that while infections 'may have peaked in the last few days in India', it remains 'too early to be confident that this a not a temporary glitch'.

He added: 'I prefer more than just three days of falling numbers before I am content it is a trend.

'It is possible that the proportion of infections that are due to XBB.1.16 has also started falling but again it's too early for me to be confident. 'It looks like the percentage is falling but the confidence intervals are very wide.'

Scientists at the University of Tokyo comparing the Kraken and Arcturus sub-variants have suggested that the newer strain spreads about 1.17 to 1.27 times more efficiently than its relative.

They warned it 'will spread worldwide in the near future' aided by the fact that it seems 'robustly resistant' to antibodies lingering in the body from previous Covid infections.

In a briefing on April 20, the WHO confirmed XBB.1.16 'may spread globally and contribute to an increase' in cases.

The strain, while identified in January, has been monitored by the WHO since the end of March.

It has now been seen in 42 countries, including the US, Singapore, Australia, and Canada.

Other Omicron sub-variants include Kraken (XBB.1.5) and Orthrus (CH.1.1).

Currently Kraken remains dominant in the UK, causing 44 per cent of all cases, while Omicron accounts for 8 per cent.

Like similar new Covid variants, virus trackers online decided to call XBB.1.16 'Arcturus' following a pattern of naming new strains after mythological entities.


Judge Rules Chicago Must Reinstate Employees Fired Over Vaccine Mandate, Rescind Requirement

A state administrative law judge ruled on Wednesday that Chicago must reinstate city employees who were fired for refusing to comply with Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate and rescind the requirement.

The decision came in a case before the Illinois Labor Relations Board, involving over 20 unions representing city employees, which filed an unfair labor practices charge with the state panel after Lightfoot imposed the policy in the fall of 2021.

A separate but similar case involving the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge 7, the city’s largest police union, remains pending.

In a 78-page decision in combined cases brought by the Coalition of Unionized Public Employees and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31, Administrative Law Judge Anna Hamburg-Gal found that although the city had the right to implement a vaccine requirement for its employees, it was obligated to negotiate with the union over the effects of that policy.

The judge ruled that the city should have negotiated with the unions over the consequences of the policy, such as placing non-compliant employees on “no-pay status” and later terminating their employment.

Hamburg-Gal wrote that docking pay “is not an inevitable consequence of the vaccine mandate or reporting requirement because no-pay status is not the sole means by which the (city) could have enforced its policy.”

The city also unilaterally changed the status quo in August 2021 when it began terminating employees who had not complied with the policy, choosing “to pursue a far harsher approach than it had taken before against violators of its vaccination policy.”

The judge ordered the city to reinstate the affected employees, with their personnel records expunged, and to compensate workers for any lost pay or benefits that resulted, with 7% interest.

The unions should be allowed to negotiate to keep any parts of the policy they like, the judge said.

A spokesperson for AFSCME Council 31 applauded the ruling as a “strong decision (that) will bolster workers’ rights going forward.”

Anders Lindall, AFSCME spokesman, stated, “The ruling affirms that when an employer contemplates significant changes to terms of employment, it has a duty to bargain in good faith with the union. In this case, the city did not do that.”

This deadline falls just days after Lori Lightfoot will leave office and far left Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson will take over.

While the FOP’s matter is still pending and tied up in court, the police union’s president, John Catanzara, celebrated the decision as “a great day for labor in Chicago and the state of Illinois.”




No comments: