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India Covid crisis: Virologist decodes lethal virus scourge

Joydeep Sen Gupta/New Delhi
Filed on May 3, 2021

(Reuters file)

Dr. Shahid Jameel explains how the fresh contagion challenge can be won over.


An explosion of new Covid-19 cases has been overwhelming India for the past three weeks. The fresh surge of the lethal contagion has infected millions of people in the world’s second-most populous country with an estimated population of over 1.3 billion (b) and has exposed like never before the nation’s broken health care system.

India is a bereaved nation.

Official data showed that by the end of April, more than 17.9 million (m) people were infected by SARS-CoV-2, which causes Covid-19, and over 200,000 people were dead, but experts maintained that the actual figures were likely to be alarmingly higher.

Khaleej Times spoke to Dr. Shahid Jameel, an eminent virologist, and Director, Trivedi School of Biosciences, Ashoka University, Sonepat, Haryana, India, to make sense of the country’s Covid-19 crisis.

Dr. Jameel attributed complacency and premature triumphalism like winning over the Covid-19 challenge as the primary reasons behind the unprecedented health care crisis. “Local body and federal elections, religious congregations, weddings since January played their parts as superspreaders,” he said.

Besides, by January, the United Kingdom (UK) variant of the Covid-19 virus had already entered India via travellers, and the contact tracing was poor, he said.

So, how can India flatten the viral curve, which is taking epic proportions?

Containment, localised lockdown restrictions are the way forward along with compliance with social distancing and precautionary measures, Dr. Jameel said. “The sick must be attended to on a priority basis,” he added.

He said it’s natural a virus mutates and the coronavirus is no exception to that.

According to the virologist, vaccines alone cannot rein in the spread of the contagion during this wave, because, typically, it takes at least six weeks for a vaccine to work optimally.

India has at best administered 4m vaccine doses daily, but the average figure is 2.5m.

Dr. Jameel suggested that the vaccination drive would need to be ramped up at least three times to be able to vaccinate all those eligible within this year.

Several Indians believe that the variant, B.1.617, is responsible for the severity of the second wave. The variant is at times called “the double mutant”. But the name is a misnomer because it has several mutations.

Less than 10 per cent of Indians have been administered even one dose.

Earlier, India had planned to ship out millions of doses. But exports have been stopped because of vaccination woes.

The country has reported 19.9m Covid-19 cases and 218,959 deaths to date.

Data showed that the viral caseload and fatalities due to the contagion have gone up at an alarming rate of 70 and 177 per cent, respectively, in the past fortnight.





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