Data on Covid-19 infections and hospitalisation rates under the current surge driven by the XBB.1.16 coronavirus variant released by Delhi’s health department on Friday have indicated low disease severity levels, similar to patterns observed in Maharashtra.
But the patterns from Delhi and other states also indicate that XBB.1.16 spreads fast and can infect people irrespective of their Covid-19 vaccination status, underscoring the importance of face masks and other precautions to slow its spread, experts have said.
Delhi’s count of daily new lab-confirmed Covid-19 infections has increased sevenfold over two weeks, from 42 on March 15 to 295 on March 30.
Delhi, on Thursday, had 932 active cases with 66 (about 7 per cent) hospitalised patients. At 5.30pm on Friday, 80 of the 7,986 Covid-19 beds in the national capital were occupied, according to Delhi government data. Thirty-one of 1,850 Covid-19 intensive care unit beds and 16 of 1,094 Covid-19 ventilator beds were occupied.
About 48 per cent of the sampled genome sequences from cases in Delhi are infected with XBB.1.16, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Friday after the state health department shared data in a special meeting on Covid-19.
“But there is no reason for worry — this variant is highly infectious, infecting even vaccinated people, but at the same time, it does not cause serious disease. The disease severity levels remain low,” Kejriwal said. “We’ll run a campaign to ask people to take precautions.”
Delhi’s health department has asked all people with symptoms of respiratory infections or with flu-like symptoms and those visiting health facilities and offices to wear face masks, adopt respiratory hygiene and practice social distancing.
Kejriwal said three patients with Covid-19 have died — two on March 29 and one a few days earlier. But all three patients had serious underlying illnesses which could have been the main reason for their deaths. “Covid-19 infection could have been incidental,” he said.
A preliminary analysis of 50 patients with XBB.1.16 from across Maharashtra 10 days ago had revealed similar patterns — low levels of disease severity and a single death in a patient who had an “extremely debilitating” illness, adoctor familiar with the data said.
But the fast spread remains a source of concern. “Under a large spread as the absolute counts of active cases increase, more and more people among the vulnerable category of patients are also likely to get exposed to the infection,” said Rajesh Karyakarte, professor of microbiology at the BJ Medical College, Pune, who heads Maharashtra’s Covid-19 genome sequencing efforts.