As we were preparing today’s edition it was announced that the technical committee of World Health Organization (WHO) today granted Emergency Use Listing (EUL) to made-in-India Covid-19 vaccine Covaxin, a move that will allow people inoculated with Covaxin to travel abroad without restrictions. India has administered well over 100 million doses of Covaxin to date. With over one billion doses of anti-Covid vaccines given so far, the number of new Covid cases and deaths from the disease has dropped significantly in India, which is now averaging about 15000 cases per day, with about 200-300 deaths for its population nearing 1.4 billion.
Unfortunately, it is the opposite that is happening in our country: relative to the size of its population of about 1.3 million, the rise in the number of both cases and deaths is disproportionately high according to medical experts. It is also to be noted that the official figures may not be reflecting the real situation, because the current surge is linked to the Delta variant which is more virulent and more transmissible, but is largely asymptomatic initially. The variant may have entered the country early this year, but there can be no two opinions about the fact that the opening of borders on 1st October is the reason for the surge that we have been witnessing.
It was an open secret that there was pressure on the government from several lobbies to lift travel restrictions so as to get the economy running again. But, given the rapid and seemingly unstoppable spread of the disease in the community, citizens have been asking whether the country had really prepared itself to face such a crisis – because crisis is what we seem to be facing now. For example, has the capacity at the Covid-specialised ENT hospital to cope been upgraded? It has been under strain right from the beginning, and any number of shortcomings there have been ventilated.
Under the circumstances, namely the incapacity of the services to adequately handle the rising incidence of cases, it falls on the population to ensure its safety by rigorously implementing the sanitary and other measures that have been repeated ad nauseam but that are being followed more in the breach than in their observance. The crowds at the beaches and the malls during the weekend and the ensuing public holidays where laxity as regards sanitary measures was all too evident have raised apprehensions that we are approaching a peak that may well touch up to hundreds of cases per day, according to medical experts. As it is, the services and infrastructure are overwhelmed. Burial grounds and crematories are tragically stretched. Warnings were issued by virologists and epidemiologists that the delta variant, far more infective and potent, would be the major risk by mid-November with cases shooting through the roof. We dare not speculate on what awaits us should their dire projections were to materialize.
There are two worrying trends in the current phase: it is predominantly younger and fitter people who are being infected, and deaths amongst them are more frequent too. The other is that we are witnessing what are called breakthrough infections – that is, people who have already received their two doses are falling prey to the virus. All the resources of the country put together, so it would seem, are not going to be enough to protect us from getting infected. No one is safe – young or old, vaccinated or not vaccinated.
We must not be lured by the fact that we can behave as if everything is normal because restrictions have been largely lifted. It is best to avoid public places and take all sanitary precautions rigorously when compelled to frequent them, such as the workplace or schools and shopping for food.
It is best to prepare ourselves mentally for a low-key end of the year. Pray for better days ahead but prepare for the worse. Better be safe than sorry.
* Published in print edition on 4 November 2021
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