Can’t Predict India’s Third Covid19 Wave, but Can Prevent It: WHO
India must work towards preventing a third Covid19 wave by being more cautious and getting people vaccinated at an urgent pace, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Sunday.
Experts anticipate a third wave of the pandemic, as seen in other countries, cautioning the government and public to not let their guard down in the meantime.
“This surge has put an immense burden on already overwhelmed health services. We are now witnessing a plateau and even a decline in cases in some parts of India. The situation continues to be of concern and challenge,” Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director of the World Health Organization, South-East Asia, said at a press briefing. “Lesson learned from this surge is at no cost can we let our guards down… While we can’t predict the next surge but we can prevent it, which we must,” she added.
The second wave has eased down in severity, experts say, as the caseload and fatality numbers continue to plateau. On Sunday, India reported its lowest daily rise in 46 days. One of the reasons for this is local, state-wide lockdowns restricting non-essential services. But the need of the hour is to exercise cautious optimism — as infectious variants, limited vaccine production, and longer symptoms of Covid19 continue to change the situation at a rapid pace.
According to Mumbai’s state government, a possible third wave could hit the state at the end of July or early August. “Situation has improved but, some districts are still seeing case surge, especially in rural areas. The government will have to curb it,” Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said on Sunday. Other states including Odisha have extended their lockdown curbs to mid-June.
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Earlier this month, advisor to the central government Dr. K. Vijayraghavan said that the third wave of Covid19 was “inevitable.” He later added that the “insidious asymptomatic transmission” can be put to a halt if guidelines about precautions, surveillance, containment, treatment, and testing are rigorously followed.
Experts have expressed concern about discourse around a third wave. For one, it shifts focus from current efforts to mollify the second wave. Two, it implies a homogeneity on how the pandemic wave will impact all states, when data has shown the ferocity of the virus depends on how effectively guidance is implemented at the local level across states, districts, and cities. Three, the discourse threatens to overlook the vulnerability in rural areas; infection rates are hard to gauge with credibility in the absence of regular testing and resources.
“Predicting the third wave as if it is an inevitable destiny is a distraction from where we need to focus right now,” Dr. Bharamar Mukherjee, professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan, said in a tweet. “We have a lot more work to do with India’s second wave. Even after the infections go down an enormous task lies ahead for the country to reopen, heal and recover.”
Enhancing vaccine production is also a key determinant of how the wave will play out, particularly in light of newer, dangerous variants. India experienced a severe production shortage in May as it opened up the vaccine for people in the 18-44 age bracket. For June, the government says it has procured more vaccines; the country has rolled out Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, in addition to Covaxin and Covishield, as a way to boost immunization.
On Monday, the Supreme Court questioned the central government on mandatory registration on Co-WIN app for Covid19 vaccination, noting people in rural areas will be rendered vulnerable.
There is consensus on what precautionary measures hold weight. These include Covid19-appropriate behavior, timely completion of the recommended vaccination schedule and expanding coverage, and enhancing the bandwidth of the health system by making more beds and resources available. Experts caution against laxity as we unlock society post the second wave.