New Delhi: India’s COVID positivity has dropped below 10 per cent for the first time in nearly a month. Despite reporting a huge spike in the COVID cases across the country, admissions to Intensive Care Units because of COVIDare at a new low across the country, one of the country’s top doctors and the head of Karnataka’s COVID task force Dr Devi Shetty tells NDTV. Here is Dr Devi Shetty’s take on the ongoing third wave of COVID-19 in India.
How should we treat COVID, given that we seem to have gone through the third wave of COVID-19?
We have been observing COVID for quite some time and we had an institutional positivity rate of 32-35 per cent, we had a few hundred patients in the ICU, in our hospital in Bengaluru. Now our positivity is reaching over 50 per cent but we have only 20-23 patients in ICU. We see a large number of patients getting tested without any symptoms or with mild symptoms. We know COVID is there and the numbers will be high for quite some time, the question is – whether it is life threatening or it is going to make them very sick for a few days, that is not the picture. The COVID that we saw in the second wave and the COVID right now, are dramatically different. So my suggestion is that we have had 2 years of no school, no work, hardly anyone is coming out of homes, the last thing I want as a doctor to put anybody’s life at risk. But our observation is that, across the country, ICU is not getting filled, there are a lot of empty beds and my colleagues from the medical fraternity are in agreement with me when I say, there is no point in doing these many tests and creating a panic situation. We have to do the test as we do for Dengue, Malaria, Tuberculosis; wherein if somebody has symptoms, only then do we test. We shouldn’t be doing these tests randomly.
There has been so much conflicting advice on this, as the World Health Organisation has warned that you can’t dismiss Omicron or the latest variant as mild, as it is very misleading. We now have a new variant emerging – BA.2 – so aren’t you worried when you say don’t take it very seriously? What about the vulnerable groups, maybe a child catching it and transmitting it to an elderly grandparent?
In our experience of observing thousands of Omicron patients right now, it is not dangerous. Even for the elderly, we have noticed that it is not that dangerous. But vulnerable people have to continue to protect themselves, practice the COVID norms. I am trying to say that the current virus going around in India, is dramatically different than what we had in the second wave due to Delta. I don’t know, six months later what the virus’s status will be. What we see in the news every day is how many people tested positive, but what we don’t see is how many people are in the ICU. Are these cases overwhelming the health systems? If they are not, we shouldn’t be panicked.
When it comes to the Booster doses, there is still no clarity on whether they are needed or will the booster dose programme will be extended for the whole adult population. In western countries, they are giving booster doses to all adults, what is your opinion on this?
The COVID-19 vaccination will become an annual event. Because with the Flu shot, the RNA vaccines do not give you the life long protections, so we have the vaccination protocol and we need to take boosters for at least a few more years. When it comes to this particular booster, there is limited data, so I am not going to comment on if it is needed or not.
At present, in private hospitals, when you get COVID-19 you are being prescribed monoclonal antibodies. There is a concern over the whole range of medicines and drugs being offered to patients from antibiotics and steroids. Should COVID patients be taking any of these?
There are several pharmaceutical interventions that have been suggested against COVID-19, but there is only one intervention that made a massive difference and that is vaccination. A good number of people received the first dose but they didn’t take the second dose, they need to go and get the dose to protect themselves. Everything else depends upon what doctors are prescribing because it could vary from case to case. However, what I can say is that we must follow the international norms, the best country to understand the best treatment is England, as it is a national health service and if they accept certain types of treatment protocols, we can also do so. In general, our policymakers have been very responsible in giving the right suggestions.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. 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 will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that 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 the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.