Fresh Covid cases in recent days are on a decline but India can’t be complacent. Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) chief Balram Bhargava, who is spearheading India’s fight against the pandemic, sounds a note of caution. Mass gatherings during the ongoing festive season can trigger a third Covid-19 wave, warns Bhargava.
In a 2000-word email interview with India Ahead’s Rishi Joshi, the ICMR Director General acknowledges that there might have been significant underreporting of Covid-19 cases in the country but attributes it to asymptomatic cases “left out of testing net”. Bhargava also explains why medical science is struggling to find a treatment for Covid. The interview is second in a three-part series. In the first part of the interview, Bhargava had argued that 40% vaccination coverage in the country can significantly reduce the peak of a third wave.
What explains the decline in Covid cases over the past few days?
The decline may be attributed to district-level containment strategy, vaccination campaign, more adherence to Covid-19 appropriate behaviour, development of antibodies due to exposure to natural infection and steps taken by government for calibrated relaxation of restrictive measures.
All anecdotal evidence points to significant underreporting of cases. Does ICMR too believe that? What is the extent of underreporting?
As reported by WHO, a large number of people infected with SARS-CoV2 are asymptomatic. Those people who don’t show any symptom are generally left out of testing net.
Why has medical science failed to find any treatment for Covid? Our experience with Remdesivir, Ivermectin, plasma therapy seems to bear this out.
It generally takes years to find treatment for a disease that is newly known. Covid-19 being a novel pathogen makes the fight all the more difficult. Scientists across the globe have unified and devised ways to conduct research in mission mode. It is the result of this synergy that we have an army of vaccines available now globally including India.
Recovery trial have generated important knowledge about use to steroids that led to more effective management of disease. The other trials like Solidarity & PLACID have also contributed important information regarding Covid-19 treatment.
It may be visible from global data that the Case Fatality Rate (CFR) has dropped drastically in comparison to the start of pandemic due the intervention of steroids and vaccines.
Can the coming festival season trigger a possible third wave in the country?
A conducive environment created anywhere through mass gathering may give way to third wave. Since festivals involve lots of gatherings and movement of population from one place to another, the chances of spread of infections also rises. Hence, we should avoid going to crowded places and, if required, strictly follow social distancing, hand hygiene and use mask.
Can Kerala become the breeding ground for new variants/mutants of the virus?
Kerala showed the lowest sero-prevalence in the ICMR Pan India sero-survey study, hence is reporting the increasing number of cases now. The Kerala government is working hard to bring the situation under control. However, state-specific third wave related discussion appears to be more relevant rather than the third wave in the entire country as the transmission of SARS-CoV2 during the second wave has been heterogenous.
(Rishi Joshi is Executive Editor with India Ahead News. The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author.)