While many experts had warned that a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic could possibly hit India in a few months, AIIMS director Dr Randeep Guleria has stated that the third wave is “inevitable” and it could hit the country in the next six to eight weeks.
In an interview with NDTV, the AIIMS chief said, “As we have started unlocking, there is again a lack of COVID-appropriate behaviour. We don’t seem to have learnt from what happened between the first and the second wave. Again crowds are building up… people are gathering. It will take some time for the number of cases to start rising at the national level.”
He further stated, “During the first wave (in India), the virus was not spreading that rapidly… all that changed during the second wave, and the virus became much more infectious. Now the Delta variant that’s spreading is much more infectious. Faster spread is likely.”
On the spread of the Delta variant in the UK, Dr Guleria said, “Virus is still mutating, we need to be careful”. The gap between the new waves is shortening and it’s “worrying”, he added.
On Delta and Delta plus variants in India:
The Delta plus variant has evolved from the Delta variant of COVID-19, triggering fresh concerns about monoclonal antibody treatment.
Speaking about the new Delta plus variant, Dr Guleria stressed that a new frontier will have to be developed in India’s fight against COVID to further study the mutation of the virus.
“We need an aggressive genome sequencing to see how the virus is behaving. Does the vaccine efficacy come down, does the monoclonal antibody treatment work? To do all of that, we need to have a large or very good network of labs to study the data. I think that’s where to move in the next few weeks. And that’s the new frontier we need to develop if we want to succeed in our fight against Covid,” he mentioned.
On vaccination and third wave:
“That (vaccination) is the main challenge. A new wave can usually take up to three months but it can also take much lesser time, depending on various factors. Apart from Covid-appropriate behaviour, we need to ensure strict surveillance. Last time, we saw a new variant – which came from outside and developed here – led to the huge surge in the number of cases. We know the virus will continue to mutate. Aggressive surveillance in hotspots is required,” the AIIMS chief said.
The AIIMS director explained that India’s main challenge right now is vaccinating a huge population and the increase in dose gaps for Covishield “may not be a bad” approach to provide protection to cover more people.
Does India need to rethink its 12-16 week gap decision between two doses of Covishied, a vaccine the country is largely dependent on? “Nothing is written in stone. We will have to look at new strategies. But we need to have strong data to take that decision,” the AIIMS chief said.
The decision should be driven by science and not the shortage of doses, he suggested.
On ‘Unlocking’ COVID restrictions:
Dr Guleria said, “Mini-lockdown in any part of the country, which witnesses a surge and a rise in positivity rate beyond 5 per cent, will be required. Unless we’re vaccinated, we’re vulnerable in the coming months.” He stressed that “testing, tracking, and treating” should be the focus in hotspots.
“We have to factor in human behaviour while unlocking, which needs to be done in a graded manner,” Dr Guleria said.