New Delhi: Public’s careless behaviour is causing the surge in India’s Covid-19 cases, not some mutation in the virus, the country’s top public health experts believe.
According to the experts, regardless of any mutation, Covid cases will surge only when the public will lower its guard. They say relaxed enforcement measures by the authorities and misleading notions about Covid being in an ‘endemic’ stage are adding to the surge.
According to official figures Tuesday, India recorded 40,715 Covid cases in 24 hours, with the active caseload at 3.45 lakh — an increase for the 13th day in a row.
Dr Samiran Panda, a top scientist from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), said Covid spreads in the community “only when it is invited”.
“Old virus or new virus, they all spread through the same route — that is our own carelessness. As soon as we stop following the appropriate behaviour, Covid will come back,” he said, adding that some experts are “misreading” the epidemic.
“General public is being misguided by saying that Covid is now in endemic stage or we are nearing herd immunity. All such analysis gives a false hope that it’s all over now,” Panda said.
Shekhar Mande, Director General at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), India’s apex scientific research organisation, echoed similar observations. “The surge in cases can be attributed to the relaxed, complacent behaviour in the public along with the possibility of the role of mutants,” he said.
However, he added, “There is no firm evidence yet to establish that mutants are the reason behind the surge of Covid cases in India. What is established is relaxed behaviour among the general public.”
Dr Gagandeep Kang, vaccine expert and professor at the Christian Medical College, Vellore, also agreed. “We have a fair amount of control in our own hands to reduce the spread of Covid and protect ourselves from the infection,” she said.
Blame political, social and religious gatherings for the surge
Health experts blamed the increasing mass gatherings due to religious, social and political events, including the election campaigns and Kumbh Mela.
K. Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), said, “Laxity at the individual level and enforcement by authorities in monitoring the Covid appropriate behaviour among the public are the two top reasons behind the surge. Mass gatherings become super spreader events which need to be controlled.”
Panda also said India should not blame mutants for the surge but the various congregations. “Don’t blame the mutants for the surge. Blame the religious events, election campaigns, marriage parties and other congregations where asymptomatic, symptomatic people spread the infection.”
No time for vaccine hesitancy
With Covid cases surging, experts suggest there is no time for “vaccine hesitancy” and called on people to take vaccines as and when their turn comes.
“I will suggest the public follow Covid appropriate behaviour and get the vaccine shot. There is no time for showing hesitancy against vaccines,” Panda said.
According to Kang, India must recognise that the vaccines may not protect the public from getting the infection but they will protect them against severe Covid disease. “The people who had prior exposure to the Covid infections may also get the milder disease with the new variants. People should take the shot and follow the appropriate behaviour,” she said.
Virus infecting more now
Reddy said the virus is probably changing its behaviour and is capable of infecting more but killing fewer people.
“Its virulence has gone down while infectivity has gone up. We need to protect the ones who are vulnerable and susceptible to catching the infection,” he said.
He added that there are other reasons due to which the case-fatality rate remains under control, including “more infections among young people, substantial improvement in the Covid management methods and change in the behaviour of virus which infects more but kills lesser people”.
Kang, a noted scientist who is credited for her work in the development of the rotavirus vaccine, added, “The SARS-CoV2 virus is heading into a direction where it will keep on mutating. This process cannot be stopped. The only thing in our hand is to follow simple procedures like good hand hygiene, maintaining social distance apart from testing and tracing.”
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)