- On Feb 2, India reported 8,635 fresh coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours
- As per the ministry, India recorded the lowest single-day rise in 8 months
- Dr Guleria says India should maintain this good position for some time
New Delhi: One year and counting. India’s fight against novel coronavirus which has infected over 1.07 crore people since the first case was reported on January 30, 2019. The country is still the second worst hit country in the world after the United States of America in terms of total number of COVID-19 cases. But there is a downward trend.
With 8,635 fresh coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, India recorded the lowest single-day rise in its tally in nearly eight months, as per the government data from February 2. In a boost to the fight against the pandemic, the country has been vaccinating its citizens and according to health ministry more than 39 lakh have been vaccinated since the government began the world’s largest inoculation drive on January 16. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his radio address – “Mann Ki Baat” claimed India is inoculating its citizens much faster than any other nation in the world.
As we move ahead in this fight, NDTV speaks TO AIIMS Director Dr Randeep Guleria to know if India has passed its coronavirus peak and what can we expect as we go forward.
NDTV: One year of fight against COVID, where does India stand?
Dr Randeep Guleria: The year gone by has its ups and downs and if we look back we can see we have faced lot of challenges, we had huge number of cases, there was a time when our predictions were worse than this. But what we have learned in the last one year is that we are a very resilient country, the way we all have come together, whether it is in respect of shortage of PPE (Personal Protective Equipments), concerns about ventilators, stretched healthcare system, but the point is that we did manage to cope up with the pandemic. There were success stories but there was also challenges, but when I look back, I also feel a little bit of satisfaction because we are certainly at a better position now than many countries in the world. However, the challenge ahead for us is how do we sustain this good position as we move ahead in this fight against coronavirus. At the same time, we also need to think of how do we take the learnings, challenges and gains from the current pandemic ahead for future so the next time we are much better prepared.
NDTV: Why has there been a sudden sharp decline in the number of coronavirus cases in India?
Dr Randeep Guleria: There are multiple factors for this, one reason could be and we need to see sero-surveillance data for it that areas where there were high chance of the infection or virus spreading, possibly due to crowding or people living very close to each other, there we may have already achieved the immunity as more and more people got infected. Secondly, in cities and rural areas, where people live at a distance, as compared to urban villages, there is a possibility that the virus chain was broken. Thirdly, we are a country of younger population, so we get milder disease and many individuals here may have got a milder disease and recovered. Also we may have some inherent immunity because of the current exposures and our immune response may be better. This has been seen not only in India but many countries like south-east Asia, they have done better than their western counterparts like Europe or USA.
But still, we need to be very cautious, we need to look at Brazil, the people there felt they have come out of the pandemic, they felt they have achieved herd immunity and their life came back to normal and then they had a new variant, which was more infectious. It can also be that the immunity which individuals had because of infection six months ago waned and that led to the surge and now they are seeing a spike once again. So, even if our numbers are down at the moment, we need to be very very vigilant as we move ahead as things can change as we have seen in other countries like the UK and South Africa.
So, good surveillance, good observation and COVID appropriate behaviour and at the same time trying to vaccinate as many people as possible and as early, I think, should be the way forward for India.
NDTV: Hailed for its COVID Fight, why is Kerala now logging highest daily cases?
Dr Randeep Guleria: It is a possibility there that now the state is able to test more and more people and maybe the spread of disease is in those parts now where it was not earlier. Secondly, as we unlock more and more things, open of travel, and festivals being celebrated, the state is seeing a resurgence of cases as there might be a lot of susceptible population. Though Kerala has a good healthcare system but we need to understand that bringing coronavirus cases down also involves community participation, maybe the surge in number is the reason that people there have let their guard down.
NDTV: Serum Institute of India’s NOVAVAX vaccine will be soon in India? How will it impact India’s vaccination drive?
Dr Randeep Guleria: We need as many vaccines for coronavirus as we can get for a simple reason that the number of population we need to inoculate is very big. However, the challenge I see is that now to get any new vaccine, doing the vaccine trial will be very challenging. Because when we didn’t have a vaccine, we could do a phase three study where you had one arm where you could do a vaccine and other arm was a placebo arm where you did not give the vaccine. Now, when we have vaccines which have been given emergency usage authorisation, it will be unethical to use a placebo arm. I think, it will be worthwhile now to have a non-inferiority trial where you give the current available vaccine to one arm and compare it with the new vaccine. Or we need to develop the surrogates of the efficacy of the vaccines, in which we see how tighter is the neutralising antibodies or the cell immunity and based on that infer that this vaccine will going to be effective without doing the traditional phase three study. So, I think all this will be a very challenging task.
NDTV: Should the norms continue to get relaxed as we move ahead in our fight against coronavirus?
Dr Randeep Guleria: I think, it is too early to be opening up this quickly. We need to realise that we haven’t really gotten over with the pandemic, we are in a good position, but we must maintain this good position for few more weeks, till we have sufficient number of people vaccinated and we are able to say comfortably that variant strains that we are seeing in different parts of the world is not going to affect us in a big manner. If we open up and we have a situation that has happened in Brazil, we will suddenly see a huge spike.
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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