‘Large crowds, mutant strains behind India’s COVID surge’

New Delhi, Mar 22: There is nothing to stop the second wave of Covid-19 in India from being as severe as the first unless people follow appropriate behaviour and are quickly vaccinated, All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) chief Dr Randeep Guleria has warned. The recent spike in infections is likely being caused by slip-ups in precautionary measures and variants of the virus, he said. The cases could spread even more rapidly if basic protective steps like wearing masks and rigorous contact-tracing are not followed. “There is a loss of Covid-appropriate behaviour. Now people feel that the pandemic is over because vaccines are here. So they fail to wear masks. We see large crowds gathering – again without masks. Many of these crowded events have become super-spreading events,” Dr Guleria said.
“The other issue is that we are become lax in the basic principle of testing, tracking, and isolating than what were doing six months ago. The third point is that the virus itself is mutating and some of the variants are more infectious,” he said.
India added 43,846 new coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours alone, setting another highest daily-high in nearly four months, amid a worrying surge. This rise has prompted states like Punjab, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu to consider revert to school closure, restricted public gatherings, and other measures, including lockdowns in worst-hit districts.
The daily rise in infections today was the highest recorded in 112 days, while the number of fatalities has risen to 1,59,755 with 197 daily new fatalities, the data updated at 8 am showed. Maharashtra, Punjab, Kerala, Karnataka, and Gujarat are the five states that have recorded the highest single-day surge since yesterday, government data show.
The number of cases and mortality could both rise in the second wave, according to Dr Guleria.
Referring to the vaccines, he acknowledged that some studies show vaccine efficacy falling 10-20% when it comes to the South African variant of Covid-19. “As we go along with vaccinations, other variants may appear. We will have to be ready to tweak the vaccines…it is not a cause of concern since we do not have enough data. But we need to be vigilant,” he said.
Is there a home-grown strain of Covid-19 that is driving up numbers?
“There may be variants in India. If the variants are of clinical significance – causing more severity or more number of infections, that is a cause of concern. We know that the virus will undergo mutation,” he said.
Containment zones need to be developed, he said, adding that aggressive testing and quarantine must be followed. Mere night curfews and weekend lockdowns may not alone stop the chain of transmission, he said.

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