By Dr Raj Karnatak,
To control its worst Covid outbreak, India must look at how New York or Lombardy did it.
The latest news regarding Covid coming out of India is one that may give some relief given the horrible numbers we were seeing until weeks ago. But with numbers supposedly going down is it too early to say the situation is improving?
In the current situation, it is really difficult to say if the actual number of cases is going down. It is very much possible that many new infections are missed in rural areas.
If you look at the data where the majority of the tests are being performed in big cities. The outbreak in rural areas is hugely under reported.
Going by reported numbers only, we have about 28 million Covid-19 cases in India. Assuming this figure is hugely underestimated, simply multiply it by 10 and the cases would rise to 280 million infected people.
Around 200 million people have received at least one dose of the vaccine. That still leaves us with around 700-800 million people having no kind of exposure to the virus who are highly susceptible to the disease.
This virus is highly infectious and has proved that if you don’t get the vaccine you will get the virus at some point no matter how careful you are.
There could be an even bigger tragedy in the future if we don’t vaccinate enough people. The amount of money the economy is losing every day due to the pandemic is astonishing.
The only way out of this crisis is vaccinating as many people as possible and as soon as possible. While vaccination programs are still ramping up we must do everything to keep each other safe and follow mitigation strategies.
Even though in the last two weeks it may have looked like the number of new cases reported every day is coming down, it may give a false sense of relief. We have to be very careful before we say cases have gone down, it is much more complex than that.
People I talk to every day in India tell me everyone is more careful now but at the same time we are still hearing about large wedding gatherings still happening.
With the outbreak in the US, we have seen many peaks in the cases and every time we thought the outbreak was under control, we had a big spike in the cases. it will be very premature and ignorant to think the outbreak in India is getting under control.
We are seeing in the US currently a high rate of vaccinations, but we still don’t know if we are not going to have a big spike in the next two weeks.
It is a time for real testing for the US, so many people are traveling on the memorial day weekend. If our vaccination numbers are good enough it will only be clear in the next few weeks.
I would still think we will have a spike. But I hope it’s not a big one. The outbreak in India is not much different than outbreaks in other countries.
In India, we still need to continue to follow all mitigation strategies, maintain social distance, avoid large gatherings, avoid going out unless you absolutely have to. And in that case, always wear a mask and keep washing your hands.
How to de-escalate the situation?
We must look at how other parts of the world came out of a big outbreak. How did Lombardy, Italy come out of it? or how New York came out of it? or how we came out of so many spikes in cases here in the US?
The only way to do it is mitigation strategies as outlined above, while vaccination programs are ramping up.
We need to continue to do everything we can to flatten the curve. As we know vaccines are the most important tool we have against the virus so vaccinating as many people as possible as fast as we can is very important.
What went wrong?
India was doing really well in December 2020, and early part of 2021, that gave a false sense to many folks in India including Indian government that the pandemic is over.
Everyone let their guards down, there were weddings with large gatherings, political campaigns, then we had Holi and life was back to normal.
Very few folks were wearing masks and even if someone had a mask they were wearing it on their chin. All this gave the virus a chance to spread rapidly.
At the same time leaders didn’t show any rush in vaccinating masses. Unfortunately, we have seen this again and again that the virus is very unforgiving.
Initially, there was a really good effort by the government to vaccinate people over the age of 65 but after that there was no serious attempt to vaccinate masses.
We really need to ramp up the vaccination and continue to follow all mitigation strategies meanwhile. If we look at the numbers in India still a large part of India is vulnerable to get Covid.
(Dr Raj Karnatak is an infectious disease and critical care physician based in Wisconsin.)
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