By Dr. C. Hemavathi
India is passing through an unprecedented surge in COVID-19 cases in the absence of adequate state intervention and cooperation of civil society. The pandemic needs to be checked globally in a well-coordinated manner and vaccine nationalism. The mass production of vaccines, reduction in prices, temporary restrictions, mass vaccination, health infrastructural development, human resources management and global cooperation are necessary to handle the possible third wave. India has earned the wrath of the global community for the ineffective management of the first wave. The magnitude of infection and death could have been averted if the government had undertaken adequate measures during the first wave. The people have paid a heavy price for the indifferent attitude of the government and civil society.
Historically, the term ‘wave’ is used to refer to the seasonality of the diseases, since several viral infections are seasonal in nature. They recur after fixed time intervals. Infections rise and then come down, only to rise again after some break. The term is used generically to describe the rising and declining trends of infections over a period of time. The third wave is a distinct possibility but it could possibly be avoided through effective measures. It is presumed that any fresh wave would be indeed much smaller than the previous one. It also inflicts much less harm and can be managed more efficiently, observed Vijay Raghavan, Principal Scientific Advisor.
Severity of third wave
There is speculation about the third wave being even stronger than the second. It is generally expected that every fresh wave would be weaker than the previous one since the virus has a relatively free run, considering that the entire population is susceptible. There would be a far lower number of susceptible people because some of them would have gained immunity due to vaccination or herd immunity.
This logic, however, has been disproved in the case of India for certain valid reasons. The reasons for the five-month continuous decline in cases in India are not scientifically evaluated. Many even believed that the pandemic was over in India. But, recent developments have disproved this assumption. Health scientists have also predicted that the third wave might be even severe. The gene mutations in the virus can alter these calculations. The virus can mutate in ways that make it escape the immune responses developed in the already infected people, or those vaccinated.
Management of third wave
The national curve has entered a declining phase now according to the latest trends. The daily case count has dropped to about 1.5 lakh from the peak of 4.14 lakh in the month of May. It is expected that by July, India would reach the minimum level of case counts due to vaccination, lockdown and other measures. The remarkable improvement in Dharavi Slum is indeed a morale-boosting success story in the country. The districts of Amravati, Sangli and a few others in Maharashtra have also shown remarkable progress in the containment of infection in a short period.
There is a great necessity to update the COVID-19 vaccines to deal with the new strains and mutations even though there is no clear timeline on when this third phase will occur. The state should respond to the new challenges on a war footing basis and save the lives of millions of people in consultation with the health experts. It is also speculated that the upcoming third wave of coronavirus would affect children the most. It is evident that most of the children in India were not affected in the second wave.
The paediatricians have noted that parents need not be scared of coronavirus as it might have no grave impact on children. Dr. Randeep Guleria, Director, AIIMS has cautioned that children would be infected the most during the third wave in the absence of timely precautionary measures. The Union Health Ministry has remarked that children with mild or asymptomatic infections with underlying comorbid conditions including congenital heart disease, chronic lung diseases, chronic organ dysfunction could be managed well through careful home isolation.
The children should be separated from other members of the family and pets. In case of small kids, the family members should wear the mask all the time. A separate bathroom is necessary for children with suitable disinfection of the bathroom. The utensils, dishes, bedding, towels and other things should not be shared with the children to avoid health complications. Following tips should be strictly followed.
- The public health system should be well equipped in order to handle health exigencies.
- The hospitals should be equipped with oxygen beds, oxygen cylinders, ventilators and other facilities.
- An aggressive containment measure in place is necessary.
- A strong and proactive surveillance system should be adopted by the caregivers.
- Proper masking, avoiding indoor gatherings, social distancing and other steps should be taken.
- Mass vaccination programme needs a boost before the third wave.
- Medical professionals and health workers need proper scientific treatments.
Karnataka government has constituted a task force to effectively manage the third wave. Various countries have tried to prevent the third wave by taking precautionary measures. The third wave cannot be prevented if the stakeholders ignore their constitutional and social obligations.
(The writer is Associate Professor and Head, Department of Botany, Government First Grade College for Women, Vijaynagar, Mysore).