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Mutants, Sluggish Vaccine Drive, Carelessness: Add Them And You Get COVID Surge, Say Top Scientists

Virologist Shahid Jameel believes the interplay of mutants and vaccines over the next couple of months will decide the future of COVID in India and the world

Mutants, Sluggish Vaccine Drive, Carelessness: Add Them And You Get COVID Surge, Say Top Scientists
Highlights
  • According to the centre, the next four weeks are critical
  • 3 variants of Coronavirus – UK, Brazil and South Africa found in India
  • UK variant is known to be about 50 per cent more infectious: Virologist

New Delhi: Why are India’s COVID-19 cases flaring up so sharply? There are no clear answers but top scientists say the complex interplay of mutant strains, a hugely susceptible population made more vulnerable by elections and other public events and the lowering of guard are primarily to blame. India’s COVID tally climbed to 1,32,05,926 (1.32 crore, 13.2 million) with a record spike of 1,45,384, the Union Health Ministry said on Saturday (April 10), in what many say is a second wave that is surging more powerfully than the first. And just like there were no answers to why there was a slide earlier this year, there is no clarity on why the numbers are rising so sharply.

Also Read: India To Have Five More COVID Vaccines By October, Sputnik V Expected To Get Emergency Use Nod In 10 Days

While there are many imponderables and many things unknown, virologists Shahid Jameel and T Jacob John are agreed that not following COVID-19 protocol, including informing people they must continue with precautions even after being vaccinated, and a sluggish vaccination drive are responsible. Mr Jameel said the interplay of mutants and vaccines over the next couple of months will decide the future of COVID in India and the world.

The intensity of the surge also suggests that there were a huge number of susceptible people after the first wave, the director of the Trivedi School of Biosciences at Ashoka University in Haryana told PTI.

The Centre warned earlier this week that the next four weeks are critical and people’s participation in helping control the second wave of the contagion is pivotal. NITI Aayog Member (Health) V K Paul said the pandemic situation has worsened with a sharp rise in cases and a large part of the population still susceptible to the virus, without giving any clear explanation on why this is happening.

The fact that people lowered the guard and didn’t follow COVID protocols after the first wave was over is certainly one valid explanation for the surge, Mr Jameel said.

Also Read: PM Narendra Modi Terms ‘Tika Utsav’ Beginning Of Second Big War Against Coronavirus, Makes Four Requests

Everything opening up to pre-COVID levels and behaviour that was no longer risk-averse exposed the susceptible population in a big way. A new factor is emerging mutants — both imported and homegrown, the eminent virologist added.

Mr John, professor of virology at Tamil Nadu’s Christian Medical College (CMC), concurred with Mr Jameel, saying not following COVID-19 protocols is partly to blame for the new wave.

Lowering of the guard was led by the central government and followed by all political parties, all religious groups, and the public at large. Schools and colleges were opened without vaccinating all staff. This explains partly the second wave, Mr John told PTI.

Wherever infection was rising, stricter imposition of discipline should have been taken but with the elections ahead, no leader wanted that. Elections during pandemic had to be carefully planned, the renowned virologist told PTI.

Also Read: India Fastest Nation To Administer Over 100 Million Doses Of COVID-19 Vaccine In 85 Days: Health Ministry

The scientist also agreed that variants are the other reason for the second wave, adding that it was too late for India to look for mutants.

The two factors came together and we were leaderless in response at the critical time. The speed of spread in the second wave is twice as fast as in the first wave. Partly due to variants and partly lowering of the guard, Mr John explained.

Referring to a Health Ministry briefing on March 24, Mr Jameel noted that the UK variants now show up in about 80 per cent of cases from Punjab. A new double mutant has emerged in India and is reported in 15-20 per cent of cases analysed from Maharashtra. If this percentage goes up further, it would be a clear indication of its role in the Maharashtra surge, said the virologist.

In India, variants first identified in the UK, South Africa and Brazil have been found. In late March, the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) announced that a new variant had been identified in samples of saliva taken from people in Maharashtra, Delhi and Punjab. The genome sequencing carried out by Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG), a consortium of 10 labs in India, identified two important mutations in the variant dubbed as ‘double mutant’.

Also Read: Second Wave Of COVID-19: Experts Discuss Reasons Behind Surge In COVID Cases And Vaccination In India

Explaining that the UK variant is known to be about 50 per cent more infectious, Mr Jameel said one of the two mutations in the double mutant was also found in California, US, where it was associated with increased transmission.

The two experts also discussed the country’s vaccination drive. According to Mr John, the government started the drive too late and no outcome goal of vaccination was defined.

India started slow vaccine rollout in January third week, but it was first a token reward to healthcare workers who were vaccinated even when there was no need — and we wasted a lot of vaccines, he said.

Was advance purchase order given to vaccine companies to get production accelerated during last year itself before approvals were obtained? Mr John asked. Mr Jameel said there was ‘poor communication’ by officials to people who were vaccinated on how they must continue with precautions like masks and social distancing.

Also Read: Mask And Adequate Ventilation Key To Curb COVID-19 Spread Indoors: IIT Bhubaneswar Study

Describing India’s COVID-19 situation as ‘curious’, Mr Jameel said the country was on a falling curve of daily infections when vaccinations started in mid-January. For various reasons, those eligible, including healthcare and frontline workers, were hesitant to get vaccines. Those above 60 also did not show enough eagerness even though cases had started going up by early March.

Now we are on a very fast rising curve with only 0.7 per cent Indians having received both doses and only about 5 per cent having received one dose. That is too low to make an impact, he added.

He noted that there was no way to predict that younger people would be affected in this surge.

Make everyone above 18 eligible for vaccination in states experiencing the surge, while staying with the 45 plus eligibility in states not experiencing the surge. Vaccinations have to be balanced against the supply of vaccines, Mr Jameel said.

Also Read: Coronavirus Variants, Susceptible Population, Slack In Following COVID Appropriate Behaviour Behind Second Wave: Experts

Noting that supply may be an issue, Mr Jameel said India has the capacity to inoculate with 10 million doses of Covishield vaccine per month and three million Covaxin doses per month.

Supply can also be boosted by giving emergency use approval to Johnson & Johnson vaccine and Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. Both of these have received approvals in other countries and have manufacturing partners in India, he added.

According to the Health Ministry on Saturday (April 10), the number of active cases has breached the 10 lakh mark again after around six-and-a-half months, while the death toll due to the viral disease has gone up to 1,68,436 with 794 more fatalities, the highest since October 18 last year. The active caseload was at its lowest at 1,35,926 on February 12, accounting for only 1.25 per cent of the total number of cases in the country.

In a recent study, scientists, including those from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur, predicted that the ongoing second-wave could peak by mid-April, following which the infections may see a steep decline by the end of May.

Also Read: No COVID-19 Vaccine Shortage In Any Part Of Country, Carelessness Behind Surge In Cases: Union Health Minister

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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 (WaterSanitation 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 pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene

World

24,24,98,327Cases
20,40,54,102Active
3,35,14,449Recovered
49,29,776Deaths
Coronavirus has spread to 195 countries. The total confirmed cases worldwide are 24,24,98,327 and 49,29,776 have died; 20,40,54,102 are active cases and 3,35,14,449 have recovered as on October 22, 2021 at 5:24 am.

India

3,41,43,236 15,786Cases
1,75,7453,086Active
3,35,14,449 18,641Recovered
4,53,042 231Deaths
In India, there are 3,41,43,236 confirmed cases including 4,53,042 deaths. The number of active cases is 1,75,745 and 3,35,14,449 have recovered as on October 22, 2021 at 2:30 am.

State Details

State Cases Active Recovered Deaths
Maharashtra

65,98,218 1,573

27,899 1,434

64,30,394 2,968

1,39,925 39

Kerala

48,88,523 8,733

82,093 1,240

47,79,228 9,855

27,202 118

Karnataka

29,84,849 365

9,017 86

29,37,848 443

37,984 8

Tamil Nadu

26,91,797 1,164

13,790 268

26,42,039 1,412

35,968 20

Andhra Pradesh

20,62,303 493

5,500 66

20,42,476 552

14,327 7

Uttar Pradesh

17,10,068 10

107 5

16,87,062 14

22,899 1

West Bengal

15,83,646 833

7,535 44

15,57,090 775

19,021 14

Delhi

14,39,488 22

311 1

14,14,087 21

25,090

Odisha

10,37,056 524

4,336 51

10,24,422 573

8,298 2

Chhattisgarh

10,05,773 38

206 21

9,91,995 16

13,572 1

Rajasthan

9,54,395 2

36 2

9,45,405 4

8,954

Gujarat

8,26,353 13

156 20

8,16,110 33

10,087

Madhya Pradesh

7,92,721 12

88 6

7,82,110 6

10,523

Haryana

7,71,125 9

131 2

7,60,945 11

10,049

Bihar

7,26,042 6

30 0

7,16,351 6

9,661

Telangana

6,69,739 183

3,967 1

6,61,829 183

3,943 1

Assam

6,07,811 384

3,762 152

5,98,087 228

5,962 4

Punjab

6,02,135 22

226 6

5,85,358 27

16,551 1

Jharkhand

3,48,526 40

166 24

3,43,225 16

5,135

Uttarakhand

3,43,787 14

176 0

3,36,213 14

7,398

Jammu And Kashmir

3,31,386 87

814 14

3,26,143 73

4,429

Himachal Pradesh

2,22,138 202

1,452 58

2,16,955 140

3,731 4

Goa

1,77,765 59

618 21

1,73,790 35

3,357 3

Puducherry

1,27,564 43

454 7

1,25,258 50

1,852

Manipur

1,23,051 81

1,346 14

1,19,800 94

1,905 1

Mizoram

1,15,944 737

10,034 229

1,05,510 962

400 4

Tripura

84,369 18

105 10

83,448 8

816

Meghalaya

83,210 52

735 26

81,034 76

1,441 2

Chandigarh

65,315 3

26 2

64,469 1

820

Arunachal Pradesh

55,065 22

140 2

54,645 20

280

Sikkim

31,819 19

185 10

31,241 9

393

Nagaland

31,670 11

250 5

30,743 15

677 1

Ladakh

20,896 10

43 9

20,645 1

208

Dadra And Nagar Haveli

10,678 2

4 2

10,670

4

Lakshadweep

10,365

0 0

10,314

51

Andaman And Nicobar Islands

7,646

7 0

7,510

129

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