Emergence of more infectious and fatal variants during imminent COVID third wave could be devastating
If the third wave strikes, daily infections may be much higher than experts’ assessment. This is because India still has more than 40 crore vulnerable people, mainly due to lax vaccination drive
India may be only three to six weeks away from the predicted third wave of COVID-19 that may actually hit the country. The Union Ministry of Health & Family Welfare has sounded the alarm, although it is not related to the third wave, but the slowdown in the drop of new cases as “cause of concern”, and also for other co-infections that might be problematic during the monsoon. Within 24 hours of expressing such the alarm, India reported 43,654 new cases as against 29,689 cases a day earlier.
The cause of worry was also obvious due to several other reasons apart from this high level of fluctuation in new cases both at all India level as well as regional and state levels, while our Central and state governments are not fully prepare to handle the third wave if it struck as has been predicted in several assessments in the latter half of August and peak in September 2021.
The other causes of concern are opening up of the economy with relaxation being given in containment measures in all parts of the country, with an attitude of complacency in governance, the low level of vaccination coverage, and laxity on the part of general public who are thronging public places in large numbers and often without even minimum level of protections such as masks.
The sounding of the alarm must be seen in this general background even though officially, we have achieved a recovery rate of 97.39 per cent. It should not make us complacent because we still have 2.61 per cent potential patients who may be facing a threat to life if infected by present variants of the virus.
Since we already know some of the variants, such as the delta variant, which may bypass the immunity of many people created due to earlier infection or inoculation, the level of threat could significantly increase.
The other cause of concern is the nature of the virus to mutate. If new more infectious and fatal variant emerge, the country would be in greater trouble than it is predicted.
One of the assessments about the predicted third wave is that the daily cases of infection may rise to around one lakh. Since experts are saying this, we cannot contradict them even though as of today we have over 46000 new infections, though we have every reason to doubt that these assessments might be conservative.
If the third wave strikes, the daily infections may be much higher than their assessment. It is chiefly because India still has more than 40 crore vulnerable people. This figure comes up after deducting the figure given by the sero-survey conducted in the country that found presence of anti-bodies in the tested individuals’ blood, indicating their immunity from COVID-19.
Additionally, we have 44.61 crore people who have been administered at least one dose of a COVID vaccine. Though it is a matter of some relief, the persisting high level of vulnerability is a serious cause of concern.
The number of recovery is still less than the number of daily infection with high fatality rate. It means India's active caseload may increase and handling them effectively with our limited medical facilities and professionals could remain problematic. In such a case, overwhelming of medical facilities will again happen just as it happened during the fist and the second wave.
Currently, our caseload is 3,99,436 patients and active cases constitute 1.27 per cent of total cases. Weekly positivity rate remains below 5 per cent, currently at 2.36 per cent; daily positivity rate at 2.51 per cent, remains below 5 per cent; Testing capacity have been substantially ramped up and we have tested 46.09 crore people as of now. However, we should never forget that the country has a population of about 140 crore.
We have seen increasing trend of infection in 22 districts of the country while 54 have reported more than 10 per cent positivity rate for the week ending July 26. Moreover, the behaviour of the virus cannot be taken for granted.
Though the Union Ministry of Health has appealed to people not to show laxity towards following Covid-appropriate behaviour as co-infection along with coronavirus could be "problematic" for them in monsoon season, it also needs to do many things ranging from removing complacency of the officials and to be ready in their preparedness to face the third wave if we fail in preventing it.
Containment measures need more careful handling, especially in the regions witnessing either high level of infections or rising number of cases. Medical preparedness is more important as also the economic support to the vulnerable.
Union Ministry of Health has already been talking to the states about all the areas of concerns, but it must be followed with concrete action in terms of helping them with resources for putting medical facilities in place and speeding up vaccination by making vaccines available at inoculation centre.
People also must follow all the preventive measures as per COVID-19 guidelines recommended by experts. Any laxity at this stage would be too costly to bear because the first and second wave left us with lesser resources and exhausted corona warriors.
Views are personal