The BF.7 sub-lineage of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, which is said to be driving the recent spike in cases in China was first identified in India in July, The Hindu reported on Wednesday.

Amid concerns over the fresh surge in Covid cases in the neighbouring country, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya convened a meeting of officials on Wednesday to discuss the situation in India. Two unidentified officials who took part in the meeting told The Hindu that since July, four cases of the BF.7 sub-lineage have been identified through genome sequencing in Gujarat and Odisha.

Officials of the Gujarat Health Department have told NDTV that two cases of the BF.7 and BF.12 sub-lineages had been reported in the state between October and November.

However, the four cases in Odisha and Gujarat have not led to an increase in severity or infectiousness of the disease in the two states, the officials told The Hindu. They have assessed that the rise in cases in China could largely be attributed to the relaxtion of its “zero Covid” policy.

“Whether BF.7 behaves differently in a population that has been minimally exposed to the coronavirus as opposed to Indians who have hybrid immunity [multiple doses of the vaccine along with exposure to several variants of the virus] is being investigated by the Indian Council of Medical Research,” an unidentified official said, according to the newspaper.

Also read: Why Covid-19 is surging in China and its possible global economic impact

However, Vinod Scaria, a member of the CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology said that XBB, a recombinant variant that is highly infectious, could be a cause of worry for India. “The worry is that China’s large population is barely exposed to the virus and if exposed to something like XBB can seed even newer variants that could have all kinds of medical consequences,” he said.

After the health ministry meeting on Wednesday, the Centre advised people to wear masks in crowded areas and directed officials to remain alert and strengthen surveillance.

“Covid-19 is not over yet,” Mandaviya said in a tweet after the meeting. “We are prepared to manage any situation.”

On Tuesday, the Union health ministry had urged states to send all Covid-19 positive samples for genome sequencing, saying that this would ensure timely detection of newer variants, if any.

‘WHO concerned about situation in China’

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization’s Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the agency needs more information about admissions to hospitals and requirement of intensive care units to make an assessment about the situation related to the virus in China, Reuters reported.

“The WHO is very concerned over the evolving situation in China, with increasing reports of severe disease,” Ghebreyesus said.

The WHO chief said that the organisation continues to call on China to share the data and conduct the studies that it requested. “As I have said many times before, all hypotheses about the origins of this pandemic remain on the table,” he said.