- COVID-19 outbreak was declared as a pandemic by WHO on March 11, 2020
- WHO is currently tracking 3 coronavirus variants- B.1.1.7, B.1.351 and P.1
- There are currently 4.8 crore active cases of COVID-19 worldwide
New Delhi: The World Health Organisation (WHO), on March 11, 2020, declared COVID-19, caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, as a global pandemic. This official declaration of the global pandemic changed the course of actions being taken to fight the outbreak and various countries announced lockdown in the subsequent days to break the chain of transmission. One year later, the world is still facing the rage of coronavirus, more so as it has been mutating, multiplying and some of its variants becoming even more contagious.
While announcing the first-ever pandemic caused by a coronavirus, WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom said,
Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death. Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this virus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do.
This followed the declaration in January 2020 of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, the highest level of alarm ???? under international law.https://t.co/qEE36ZrAil
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) March 11, 2021
According to the WHO’s COVID-19 data for March 12, there are 4.8 crore active cases of COVID-19 worldwide. While 6.7 crore people have recovered, 26.29 lakh people have died due to COVID-19 globally.
With over 2.8 crore active cases and more than 5.3 lakh fatalities, the United States continues to remain the worst affected by the global pandemic. In terms of active cases, the United Kingdom is second (41.17 lakh), followed by France (36.83 lakh), Spain (29.55 lakh), Netherlands (11.2 lakh), Brazil (10.2 lakh). India has over 1.97 lakh active cases and suffered the death of over 1.58 lakh people because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India said on March 11 during its weekly press conference that the state of Maharashtra is currently facing the most concerning situation. It said that the reduced testing, tracing and lack of COVID appropriate behaviours have led to the surge in active cases in the state. Apart from Maharashtra, the other states that have high number cases are Kerala, Punjab, Karnataka, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. These six states are responsible for 85.91 per cent of the new coronavirus cases reported in the past 24 hours.
Keeping Up With The Changing Virus
Since the outbreak has stated, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has been mutating which is a normal phenomenon in viruses when they try to multiply but end up producing erratic copies of themselves, says Dr Preeti Kumar from Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI). She further said that there are thousands of strains of coronavirus are floating across the world but out of those, some are more dominant. According to Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, Epidemiologist and Technical Lead, COVID-19, WHO along with its partners, is currently tracking three virus variants – from the UK (B.1.1.7), South Africa (B.1.351) and Brazil (P.1) – that are circulating around the world.
The B.1.1.7 variant has been detected in more than 100 countries since it was first detected last September in southeast Britain. While answering key questions on SARS-CoV-2 variants, their transmissibility and severity, Dr Kerkhove said,
So far, the information that we have is that there is increased transmissibility in the B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 virus variants. This is resulting from a mutation that allows this virus variant to bind to the human cell more easily. We do not see an increase yet in transmission with the P.1, but that is currently under investigation.
Ramping Up Of Testing
When the pandemic hit the country, it had only the National Institute of Virology (NIV) as a testing centre. The testing facilities were expanded exponentially in the months following the declaration of the pandemic and as of now, there are over 2,400 (2,410) testing centres across the country and over 22.4 crore samples have been tested. According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the country has been testing over 7 lakh samples every day. These include the RT PCR test, the rapid antigen test and the antibody tests.
In the one year of the pandemic, vaccine development saw a revolution where the scientists and pharmaceutical companies worked on a ‘break-neck speed to come up with the right molecule for an effective vaccine against COVID-19. The massive scale of production of the vaccines, vials, syringes and needles was another challenge that the world is trying to address. According to Dr Aviral Roy, Consultant, Critical Care, Medica Superspeciality Hospital, Kolkata, a vaccine, on average, takes at least 10 years to undergo all trails and pass the required standards for getting approved for immunization. However, to fight the ongoing pandemic, vaccines against coronavirus have been developed within a year.
In India, the COVID-19 vaccination drive was started on January 16 with an aim to inoculate the identified healthcare and frontline workers. The country has given emergency use approval to ‘Covishield’ which has been developed by Oxford University and pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and produced in India by the Serum Institute of India and ‘Covaxin’ developed by the country’s indigenous Bharat Biotech in collaboration with ICMR. With the second phase of the nation-wide vaccination drive underway, which allows senior citizens and people with comorbidities to get the jab, as many as 26.1 crore doses of the vaccine have been administered so far.
Equitable Distribution Of Vaccines Is Must To Defeat The Pandemic: WHO
According to the WHO, with a fast-moving pandemic, no one is safe unless everyone is safe. Thus, in order to speed up the search for an effective vaccine for all countries and at the same time build supply for a fair distribution of vaccine doses among all countries, WHO had started a global vaccine-sharing initiative called COVAX (COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access).
Now as more people are getting inoculates, countries around the world are looking for easing the restrictions. While vaccines are important is building immunity against the virus and controlling severe infections and mortality, WHO strongly emphasises on not becoming complacent and following all the preventive measures physical distancing, hand hygiene, wearing a mask, adopting respiratory etiquette like covering the mouth with a tissue paper while sneezing, opening the window when in a closed room, avoiding crowded places, staying at home when unwell, getting tested if needed and following the SOP (standard operating procedures) issued locally.
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.