Third wave of COVID 'inevitable', can't predict when: Centre

Third wave of COVID 'inevitable', can't predict when: Centre
Health workers inspect COVID-19 patients undergoing treatment at Shehnai Banquet Hall, converted into an isolation centre amid surge in coronavirus cases, near LNJP Hospital in New Delhi, Wednesday, May 5, 2021. PTI

New Delhi: The government on Wednesday said that a third wave of coronavirus pandemic was "inevitable", although a time-frame for it could not be predicted.

In a press briefing by the Ministry of Health Affairs on Wednesday, officials said the long COVID wave of such "ferocity" that the country was experiencing currently "was not predicted".

Twelve states, including Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh, have more than 1 lakh active COVID cases, the government said.

Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Rajasthan and Bihar are among the states that show increasing trend in daily cases, it said.

The government also said that 24 states and UTs show more than 15 per cent COVID positivity rate.

From May 1, 6.71 lakh people in the age group of 18-44 years in nine states have been administered the vaccines, it added.

"Phase three is inevitable given the higher levels of circulating virus, but it is not clear on what time-scale this phase three will occur. We should be prepared for new waves," said K Vijay Raghavan, the principal scientific advisor to the Centre.

He said although vaccines are efficacious against new mutations like the UK one and the double mutant, surveillance and vaccine updates are needed as the virus mutates further.

He said it is necessary to be prepared with changes in strategy in terms of vaccine and other kinds of situation.

The country's top scientific officer said a combination of less cautionary measures, less immunity in the population from the first wave is driving the second wave, which has killed thousands and infected lakhs of people across the country.

Many factors contributed to this second wave and variants are one of the factors. The first wave peaked in September last year and cases started falling substantially, he said.

The first wave declined because of two factors, he added.

"As infections rose, so did immunity among those infected. As cautionary steps at every one at this level, there was less opportunity for the infections to spread. A combination of standing level of immunity in the population and cautionary steps halted the spread of the first wave," he said.

But as the cautionary steps declined, new opportunities for infection arose and the level of immunity among the population is often not enough to stop the infection spread.

"Many people get infected until they reach a new immunity threshold. Such a second wave is typically smaller than the first. Such a second wave was expected. However, multiple parameters can change and add up to the second wave, much larger than the first. (But) Such a larger second wave with the ferocity we are seeing was not predicted," he said.

Elaborating on the evolution of SARS-CoV2 and its increasing lethality, he said the virus emerged in 2019 in Wuhan and at that time it was generalist that could infect many mammal species.

The first phase saw two mutations every month, he said.

However, the second phase which started in October 2020 saw dramatic changes and new variants like the UK variant coming to the fore.

"In early 2021, a very large number of people all over the world had been infected. As the immunity increases, the virus does not have the opportunity to grow," he said.

But it sees that there are pockets it can go through and therefore it evolves for better transmission, he added.

"Phase three is inevitable given the higher levels of circulating virus, but it is not clear on what time-scale this phase three will occur. We should be prepared for new waves," he said.

Personal behaviour (masks, distancing and hygiene), vaccination and tracking and containment are three pillars which stop the chain of virus. They are same for the Wuhan virus, they are same for the Wuhan virus and they are same for the B.1.1.7 (UK strain) or B.1.617 (Double mutant).

VijayRaghavan added that distancing can exponentially bring down the spread.

"The virus can only go from human to human," he said, stressing on following COVID- appropriate behaviour.

Member, NITI Ayog, Dr VK Paul requested "physicians' fraternity" to come forward and provide tele-consultations to people and families at home who are infected with coronavirus.

"The response to the changing virus remains the same. We need to follow the COVID- appropriate behaviour such as mask, distancing, hygiene, no unnecessary meetings and staying at home," Dr Paul said.

In reply to a question, he said that the disease is not spreading through animals, bot through human to human transmission.

Union Health Ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal said that the foreign aid coming from abroad is being monitored by a group of senior officials.

"Our technical wing has made guidelines to see that what hospital would the equipment be suitable for. The equipment is being sent to hospitals where an immediate need has been felt," he said.

Agarwal also said that 11 districts in Maharashtra are showing continuous decline in COVID cases since the last 14 days, while some districts like Satara and Solapur show a continued increase in such cases over the last two weeks.

He also said that the government is making continuous efforts to build capacities of all healthcare facilities across the country.

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