A few days before he resigned as the head of the Indian SARS-COV-2 Genomics Consortia (INSACOG), the scientific advisory group coordinating India’s genome sequencing work, senior virologist Dr. Shahid Jameel had explained the new surge of the Covid-19 pandemic in India as part of the Explained series in the Indian Express.
During this session Dr Jameel raised three key points:
- The virus had become more dangerous by the time of the second surge
- The virus was spreading quickly because we became negligent and large public gatherings were permitted
- The number of Covid-19 related deaths were being severely undercounted
The second surge: A deadlier virus
He pointed out how figures in April virtually exploded and increased five-fold, “We started around 80,000 and went up to about 4,00,000.” He explained that a steep climb would lead to an elongated plateau. He also called the new, more lethal version of the virus a “formidable foe” and further pointed out how it was allowed to not only spread, but spread quickly, causing the “very, very sharp increase.” He also warned that the climbdown from the peak would be a “prolonged, long-drawn-out process running possibly into July, maybe even into August.”
Complacency and negligence enabled quick spread
Using Cricket analogy, Dr. Jameel says our present predicament is because “we took our eyes off the ball”. He pointed to the September to February period when cases had begun to decline even as India celebrated Dussera and Diwali and the Bihar elections were conducted. He feels this is when we began to abandon caution instead of learning from the experiences of other countries who had peaked before India and then went on to have a second peak. But instead of remaining vigilant, we abandoned caution and held a series of events where a large number of people gathered; from weddings, to state and local body elections to the Kumbh Mela. This coupled with a low rate of vaccination, allowed the new variant to spread quickly.
Under-counting of deaths
On the subject of undercounting of deaths, Dr. Jameel told the Indian Express that going by official Covid death numbers, one arrives at a 15 percent increase in total deaths which would not have overwhelmed crematoria and burial grounds the way we have seen of late. He feels that there might be “5-10 times undercounting of deaths” mainly because of three reasons: Firstly, deaths are not registered properly in our country even during non-emergency situations. Secondly, many people may not have had the opportunity to get tested for Covid, therefore those deaths are not reported as Covid deaths. Thirdly, in case of people dying due to comorbidities, Covid is often not listed as cause of death.
India’s vaccination programme
Dr. Jameel bats for India’s vaccination programme calling it “very sensible” for prioritising frontline workers, the elderly, people with comorbidities before the healthier populace. However, he also addressed complacency among people who feel they do not need the vaccine. He also advises people to focus on the benefits of vaccination instead of risks. He also feels that despite having large-scale vaccine manufacturing facilities in India, we have to acknowledge that they are all run by the private sector and “the private sector does not run on charity.” He also points out poor planning as far as placing vaccine orders goes, that turned us from being a vaccine surplus nation that at one point gave out “66 million doses to 95 countries” to becoming an importer of vaccines. He feels vaccine supply will stabilize by July in light of fresh disbursal of funds to Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech. He feels 7.5 to 10 million doses of the vaccine need to be administered daily in order to effectively vaccinate the population and control the spread of the disease.
Dr. Jameel advises people to remain vigilant and practice Covid appropriate behaviour at all times.
Courtesy: Sabrang India