- It is natural for a virus to mutate: Dr Guleria
- New strains have emerged in the country: Maharashtra COVID Task Force
- COVID-appropriate behaviour needs to be maintained all the time: Dr Guleria
New Delhi: According to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), the country has been recording a spike in daily active cases of COVID-19 since February 18. On Monday (February 22), active coronavirus cases increased by 4,421 in 24 hours – a spike of three per cent – to cross the 1.5 lakh mark for the first time in 17 days and register the steepest overall increase since end-November. The spike in national numbers comes as five states – Maharashtra, Kerala, Punjab, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, report an increase in daily numbers, says the central government. The reason behind this spike could be new strains of mutated coronavirus that have been emerging across the country and almost 240 such variants have come into the view, says the Maharashtra COVID Task Force. So as witnessed in UK and other European countries is this a second wave of the pandemic for India?
Dr Randeep Guleria, Director, All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) in Delhi highlights that coronavirus, like all other viruses, has a tendency to mutate as it multiplies. While some mutations are inconsequential, some may make the virus more contagious or dangerous or both, he said. However, he also said that the negligence on part of people in following preventive measures like not wearing masks, washing hands and maintaining social distance, may also lead to a surge in cases.
In the last many months, we have seen that the coronavirus has been mutating and we have seen strains becoming very infectious like the ones that emerged in United Kingdom, South Africa and in Brazil. But I think the surge is also related to multiple factors including the COVID appropriate behaviour which has also come down. Because of this, we are seeing a spike in various places in the country. This is something we need to be concerned about and take aggressive actions so that we are able to contain it right now rather than having an increasing number of cases in the rest of the country, said Dr Guleria.
Talking about the rising cases in Amravati, Maharashtra and other districts where clusters of people are testing positive and the positivity rate (percentage of people who test positive out of all of the tests done) in these areas have gone up exponentially, Dr Guleria said,
Clusters of cases occur when people do not follow the preventive measures properly. If you are not wearing a mask or not maintaining physical distance or not washing hands regularly, then you will have a high risk of getting the infection. And if you are giving a chance to the virus to spread, it will cause clusters of cases.
Emphasizing the need for adopting COVID-19 norms in order to prevent the spread of new strains, Dr Guleria said,
I think we need to go back to the things we were doing during the early days of the pandemic- aggressive measures of testing, contact tracing and isolating infections so that the chain of transmission is broken. It is not being done as aggressively as it was being done in the past. We have to understand that the virus is going to change and we should not take things casually.
Explaining that such setbacks in the fight against the pandemic are expected Dr Guleria said that complacency should be avoided at all cost. He busted the myth of “herd immunity developing in the country” and asserted,
Even if you look at the data collected during sero-surveillance studies across the country, it clearly suggests that the number of people who have got the immunity across the country is still not enough to cause herd immunity. Only 20-25 per cent of the population in India has developed immunity against COVID-19, however, you need at least 80 per cent of people have the antibodies to say that we are reaching herd immunity.
Dr Guleria further explained that herd immunity should be given much importance because it is dependent upon the immunity developed against the original virus but when there are numerous mutations that have occurred in the virus, then the immune response will fall and thus the person who already has the antibodies gets reinfection.
We have to look for other strategies to defeat the pandemic rather than waiting for herd immunity, he said.
As one of the strategies, Dr Guleria recommends increasing genome sequencing of the coronavirus which is the process of studying the genetic make-up of the virus to identify mutations. He emphasised on having more data on virus genomes to be able to find what all strains of coronavirus are floating in different parts of the country. This data will not only help the policymakers and health authorities in making effective strategies to contain the transmission but will also provide vital insights for developing efficient vaccines that can cover the new variants, he said.
Immune Escape Mechanism Of New Strains Is A Cause Of Concern
According to Dr Guleria, new variants of coronavirus develop immune escape mechanism which helps the virus to bypass the immune response that the human body has already developed because of previous COVID-19 infection or vaccines. Because of this, the virus is able to cause reinfections despite the body having antibodies. He further said,
Data suggests that some of the vaccines may still be effective although the efficacy may come down. We need to be careful because more of the new strains may emerge when we start vaccinating more and more people which would cause it to mutate and try and develop immune escape mechanism.
Dr Guleria added that there is always a possibility of another wave of infection facing the country. He said,
We are at a good positing right now but if we have new strains that can cause reinfections, there is a chance of another wave of infections.
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.
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