Facing a surge of new novel coronavirus cases in some of its states, India should focus on completing vaccinations of high-risk individuals, health experts and virologists say.
Infections have been on the rise over the last few weeks, after the daily numbers reached an eight month low towards the end of January, triggering fears of a second wave in the country.
On Wednesday, India recorded nearly 48,000 new cases, raising the total to 11,734,058 and the death toll at 160,441.
“India is in a delicate situation. All signs indicate that we may be at the cusp of the second wave, unless we act quickly and contain the infection,” said Dr. Lalit Kant, former head Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases Division, Indian Council of Medical Research. “We need to cover the high-risk population via vaccinations at the earliest,” Kant told Anadolu Agency.
Kant said that preventive measures, like wearing a face mask and maintaining physical distance were not being observed by the public.
The country is currently also conducting its second phase of vaccinations, with official figures showing that that over 50 million doses had been administered, including the elderly. On Tuesday, India announced that all people above 45 years old would be eligible for vaccination as of April 1.
India’s leading virologist Dr. T. Jacob John said that while the uptick in virus cases in March this year was not expected, “human behavior” and “some virologic and epidemiological issues” played a role in the spike.
Jacob said the government’s goal must be to prevent deaths, take intensive care unit admissions and focus vaccination efforts on areas witnessing infections surges “by targeting people aged above 40 years.”
The new rise in India has prompted authorities to order restrictions and the closure of educational institutions in many Indian cities to prevent further spread.
K. Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India think tank told Anadolu Agency that people in the country did not follow precautions after lockdown was lifted last year, with states like Maharashtra and Gujarat now reporting more cases, owing to large economic activities going on.
“Once the numbers started coming down, we suddenly said we’re now gaining control and we’re reaching herd immunity, which was an absolutely mistaken notion,” said Reddy. “That gave people a feeling that they could be around, they can celebrate weddings, have political and religious gatherings.”
As per the Health Ministry, the states of Maharashtra, Kerala, Punjab, Karnataka, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu continue to report a surge in daily virus cases, of which they make up the largest part.
Authorities imposed a nationwide lockdown in March last year to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the country, bringing it to a grinding halt. Subsequently, the country has been in the midst of a phased reopening of economic activities since June.
New COVID-19 variant
Meanwhile, health officials have also detected a new variant of the virus in the country, according to an official statement on Wednesday by the Health Ministry.
Genome sequencing efforts by the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG) detected a novel variant of coronavirus in the country, besides 771 other variants of concerns.
“Since INSACOG initiated its work, 771 variants of concerns have been detected in a total of 10787 positive samples shared by States/UTs […] the samples with these VOCs [variants of concerns]have been identified in 18 States of the country,” the ministry said.
It added: “Though VOCs and a new double mutant variant have been found in India, these have not been detected in numbers sufficient to either establish or direct relationship or explain the rapid increase in cases in some States.”
On Tuesday, the government in northern Punjab state said 81% of the latest 401 samples sent for genome sequencing tested positive for the UK variant of the virus.
For his part, Reddy maintained that the government’s focus should be on the vaccination of priority groups and people that should take basic precautions.
“If we start tightening our belt again and following all the rules, we may be able to curtail transmission.”