Third COVID-19 wave inevitable; should be prepared for more: Govt's Principal Scientific Advisor

Although COVID-19 vaccines are efficacious against new mutations, surveillance and vaccine updates are needed as the virus mutates further, said K VijayRaghavan.
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As the virus mutates further, the third COVID-19 wave is inevitable, and it is necessary to be prepared for new waves, the government's Principal Scientific Advisor K VijayRaghavan cautioned on Wednesday.

With active cases climbing to 34.87 lakh in India, the top scientific officer said it was not expected that the second wave would hit the country with such ferocity.

"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.

VijayRaghavan 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.

The virus has now adopted a "hit and run lifestyle." Also, a combination of less cautionary measures and low 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, he said.

The first wave peaked in September last year and cases started falling substantially. The first wave declined because of two factors, he added.

"As infections rose, so did immunity among those infected. A combination of the 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.

A study conducted by the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB) suggested the recurrence of the coronavirus outbreak in March could have been due to the lack of "meaningful antibodies" in seropositive people after a peak in September last year.

Elaborating on the evolution of SARS-CoV2 and its increasing lethality, VijayRaghavan said the virus emerged in 2019 in Wuhan, and at that time, it was a 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 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 seems there are pockets it can go through and therefore it evolves for better transmission," he added

Earlier, the virus-infected people were largely asymptomatic, and many symptomatic, and it had a certain profile of progression.

“Now it has adopted due to fewer people available, a hit and run lifestyle. And, this is what is happening with the new variants coming,” he said.

VijayRaghavan said that distancing can exponentially bring down the spread.

"The virus can only go from human to human," he said, stressing on following COVID-19 appropriate behaviour.

During the briefing, Lav Agarwal, the joint secretary in the Health Ministry, said 12 states, including Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, and Uttar Pradesh, have more than one lakh active COVID cases.

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

Agarwal added that 24 states and UTs have more than a 15 percent COVID positivity rate. Thirty districts are showing a continued rise in coronavirus cases since the last two weeks, of which 10 are in Kerala, seven in Andhra Pradesh, three in Karnataka, and one in Tamil Nadu, he added.

A record 3,780 fresh COVID-19 fatalities were registered in a single day in India, taking the death toll to 2,26,188, while 3,82,315 new coronavirus infections were recorded, according to the Union Health Ministry data updated on Wednesday.

With the fresh cases, the total tally of COVID-19 cases in India climbed to 2,06,65,148.

Registering a steady increase, the active cases have increased to 34,87,229, comprising 16.87 percent of the total infections, while the national COVID-19 recovery rate was recorded at 82.03 percent, the data updated at 8 am showed.

VK Paul, Member (Health) NITI Aayog, appealed to the "physicians'' fraternity to come forward and provide teleconsultations to people and families at home who are infected with the coronavirus.

"The response to the changing virus remains the same. We need to follow COVID-19n appropriate behaviour such as masking, distancing, hygiene, no unnecessary meetings, and staying at home," he said.

He said personal behaviour (masks, distancing, and hygiene), vaccination and tracking, and containment are three pillars that stop the chain of virus transmission.

“They are the same for the Wuhan virus, and they are the same for the B.1.1.7 or B.1.617," Paul said.

In a reply to a question, Paul said the disease is not spreading through animals, and it's human to human transmission.

On vaccination, Agarwal said the total doses administered till now was 16.05 crore.

While 12.31 crore people above the age of 45 years have been vaccinated, the number is at 1.58 crore among healthcare workers.

Around 2.09 crore frontline workers have also been vaccinated, while 6.71 lakh people between 18 years to 44 years have got their jabs so far, he added.

In response to another question, Agarwal said that foreign aid is being monitored by a group of senior officials.

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

Edited by Suman Singh