- Lately, India has been reporting less than 30,000 new COVID-19 cases
- The next four to six months could be the worst of the pandemic: Bill Gates
- 30 crore people in 3 priority groups will be vaccinated first against COVI
New Delhi: On December 21, for the eighth consecutive day, India reported less than 30,000 new COVID-19 cases. The daily growth in COVID-19 cases in the country peaked on September 17 when the country reported a record rise of around 98,000 fresh cases but after that, a decline is being seen. If the current trend continues, by the end of December it is being speculated that not more than 20,000 cases are likely to get detected every day. Talking to NDTV about India’s current COVID-19 trends, Dr Arvind Kumar, Chairman, Institute of Chest Surgery, Medanta Hospital, said, the number of cases coming down is a matter of satisfaction but there is also a need to not be complacent. He said,
This is a very dangerous, highly infectious virus. You take measures and it gets controlled, you lower your guard and don’t take measures and it will rebound with 10 times the number. The situation is that the numbers are coming under control but that should not lead people into complacency and lead people to say goodbye to masks, social distancing and hand hygiene.
In an interview with CNN on December 13, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that has been a part of the effort to develop and deliver COVID-19 vaccines, warned that the next four to six months could be the worst of the pandemic. He said,
The IHME (Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation) forecast shows over 2 lakh additional deaths. If we would follow the rules, in terms of wearing masks and not mixing, we could avoid a large percentage of those deaths.
While COVID-19 numbers in India are coming down, Mr Gates’ prediction seems frightening. This at a time when various vaccine candidates against COVID-19 are getting emergency use authorisation and there seems to be a light appearing at the end of the tunnel.
Talking about Mr Gates’ prediction and the hope of a vaccine soon, Dr Kumar said,
What we have learned from this pandemic in the last 11 months is that social distancing, wearing of a mask and hand hygiene are the three main pillars on which control or otherwise of this virus rests. We were very hopeful about a large number of medicines, well, they are there, but I don’t think anything has proved to be more effective than these three basic measures. Today, everybody is pinning their hopes on a vaccine, there is so much buzz about the vaccine but I want to issue a note of caution here that first of all, vaccines will become effective when a significantly large, that is over 70 per cent of the population has been vaccinated and has developed adequate antibodies which is quite a task for the entire world to do that much vaccination. Till the time we achieve that we will have to continue using these three precautions.
Dr Kumar added that Mr Gates’ prediction is based on the basis of an analysis done by IHME and the fact that people have bid adieu to basic COVID precautionary measures which is resulting in a massive rise in the number of cases and deaths.
Dr Kumar also noted that the news of vaccine has created a buzz among people who now believe that vaccine has come so there is no need for social distancing. He added,
This is going to lead to a disaster and that’s something which we should warn people again and again because this might lead to a third or fourth massive spike in the number of cases if that happens.
Dr Kumar informs that typically, the process of vaccine development takes a minimum of five to six years whereas the total duration we have had with this pandemic is about a year. He lauded the scientists working on the development of a vaccine and making it available within a span of a year but also noted that a lot of things about a vaccine are still unknown. He said,
I must say that a lot of things which otherwise would have been done in the process of vaccine development have been kept on hold and they are being given emergency use authorisation for obvious reasons which is the right thing to do. There are many aspects of this vaccine that we don’t know. For example, we don’t know how long these antibodies will last in the body and will continue to be effective in preventing the viral. Having an antibody is one thing and that antibody being able to protect the person from infection or reinfection is another issue that needs to be checked and tested on a long term basis. These studies are still going on. There is a lot of data which is available but there is a huge amount of data which still needs to be generated which will answer many of the unanswered questions as of today.
But will a vaccine against COVID-19 end the pandemic? The World Health Organisation (WHO) says a vaccine is not a silver bullet. In a media briefing on December 4, WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said,
Even as vaccines are rolled out, people will need to keep adhering to public health measures so that everyone is protected.
In India, to begin with, a small percentage of people will be vaccinated which according to AIIMS Director Dr Randeep Guleria will take four to six months. The government’s National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 (NEGVAC) has recommended vaccinating 30 crore people in three priority groups – 1 crore healthcare workers (HCWs), healthcare providers and workers in a healthcare setting; 2 crore frontline Workers; 27 crore prioritised age group population above 50 years and persons below 50 years with associated co-morbidities. However, Dr Guleria is hopeful that the chain of transmission of Coronavirus can be broken in six months. While talking to NDTV, he said,
In the next six months, we will have two things, one is we will have a sufficient number of individuals who have got infected and recovered and have some degree of immunity and the vaccine itself will also provide some immunity so as to break the chain of the transmission and bring down mortality. I am not saying that COVID will go away in six months, COVID will stay for quite some time but we will be in a much better position to say that we are now back to near normal. But I think we will have to wait maybe for a year or so before we can say that yes, we have now really gone to what we call post pandemic phase.
Before signing off, Dr Kumar reiterated the importance of COVID-19 precautionary measures and called for being very careful and cautious in opening educational institutions, malls, markets, gymnasiums, parlous, and all those areas where close face to face contact is possible or a large number of people can gather in a small area. He said,
More the pool of infected people, faster the infection will spread. So, I again stress, vaccine or no vaccine, lowering of numbers or no lowering of numbers, mask, social distancing, and hand hygiene are here to stay for the next six months at least. If we don’t do that, we will face the consequences.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.