Covid-19 cases are showing a steady increase since the start of June. The latest numbers show a four-time increase, with 12,000 new cases reported in the last 24 hours. It makes you wonder if it is the start of a new destructive wave. And if it is, how can we stop it?
The principles of dealing with Covid-19 remain the same. Public health measures remain effective, so are vaccinations. There are some new treatments but, right now, out of reach for the majority of the country.
Masking, Social Distancing and Ventilation
Masking even with an inexpensive cloth mask is proven to be quite effective for prevention of Covid-19. Making indoor spaces well-ventilated has been proven to make a lot of difference in infection rates. Allowing outdoor air to come in can make a transmission less likely. For places where due to prior building restrictions or other reasons increasing outdoor ventilation is not possible, the Wold Health Organization (WHO) recommends portable standalone air filtration units with HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters, the ones which have become popular since the last few years owing to increase in pollution.
It becomes difficult for the government to enforce masking and ventilation all year round primarily because of public fatigue with regards to masking and social distancing. The government should tone up the messaging and enforcement of these measures when case numbers go up.
mRNA vaccines, like the ones made by Pfizer and Moderna, are quite important in this fight against Covid-19 mostly due to their ability to better protect and change rapidly in response to a new variant. The government and the manufacturers have not been able to fix the issue of liability because of the adverse effects of these vaccinations, so they are yet not available in the Indian market. Although, we now have homegrown mRNA vaccines in various stages of approval but it will take them months to enter the market.
With 75% of the population vaccinated with at least one dose, 66% vaccinated with both the doses and only 3% with the booster dose, it is imperative that the government pushes for more vaccinations and make it easier for the people to get vaccinated.
With countries like Israel, UK, USA and others giving out their second boosters, it points towards how far behind are we. A sustained information and education campaign and making the booster free for all would be a great help in this. It is quite vital that we understand that the protection provided by the doses wanes over time and the gap between doses should be six months.
Diagnosis, Data and Modelling
The quality of data collection regarding the virus in our country is not uniform and is inadequate. Around 5% of all RT-PCR tests should undergo Genome Sequencing so that we know if there are concerning mutations that are present in the samples. This information will help us get an early warning in case of a variant with dangerous mutations and help us be better prepared for that.
A government team of public health experts, disease modellers, data analysts should be formed, which should work to analyse all data coming in from the country, look out for new outbreaks. Once we get a hang of this, it can be expanded to include other diseases and used against them. This idea is being pushed by Bill Gates at the international level by the name GERM ‘Global Epidemic Response and Mobilisation’ team.
We have to get ready for a rise in case or a new disease. With the rise of global travel and man-animal interaction, the chances of a new threat coming to haunt us is quite high.
Dr Harshit Kukreja is Research Analyst at Takshashila Institution. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.