New Delhi: With the festival season approaching, followed by the winter, when respiratory infections tend to occur more, the government is bracing for an escalation in the Covid-19 situation.
“The next two-three months are very important. We need to take all precautions, ensure universal use of masks, maintain social distancing, even as the festival season approaches,” NITI Aayog member (health) Dr Vinod Paul said Tuesday at the government’s Covid briefing.
“This is the time for it because, during winters, respiratory infections go up and, whatever else we may say for Covid, it is, after all a disease that affects the respiratory tract and it is well known that respiratory infections happen more in winter,” he added.
In this light, he said, it is “important to ensure that the virus cannot travel from one person to the next”.
“That is why masks are so important. Both science and experience have shown they are effective. Look at how much better countries which used masks have done. Science says cases can be reduced 36 per cent to 50 per cent by the use of masks,” he added.
The government’s warning about the course of Covid in the coming months came as the daily growth in Covid-19 cases showed a slight dip Monday, after having stayed over 90,000 for several days.
Replying to a question from ThePrint on whether Covid is likely to peak in India in the coming months, Paul said: “Winter’s coming, the festival season — an escalation is expected. That is why precautions are so important.”
There were similar apprehensions before the monsoon season and the number of cases has rapidly increased since July across the country, landing India at the number two spot globally, behind just the US.
Dr Paul said the main focus now needs to be on minimising the damage caused by the pandemic, and the need of the hour is for everyone to be responsible citizens and practise Covid-appropriate behaviour.
There seems to have crept in some amount of laxity on the matter of masks, that needs to be changed, he added.
‘Aiming for a 50%-100% efficacy vaccine’
Replying to a question on whether the government is looking at a vaccine that will just reduce the severity of the disease rather than prevent it, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Director General Dr Balram Bhargava said no respiratory disease has had a vaccine with 100 per cent efficacy.
“No vaccines for respiratory diseases have 100 per cent efficacy. WHO says a vaccine should have three things — safety, immunogenicity (the ability of a foreign substance to trigger an immune response) and efficacy. The WHO said that a vaccine with 50 per cent efficacy can be accepted. We are aiming for 100 per cent, but the vaccine’s efficacy would be anywhere between 50 per cent and 100 per cent,” he added.
The statement comes a day after government pharma regulator Central Drugs and Standard Control Organisation issued draft guidelines for Covid vaccines that suggested researchers may not necessarily look for the preventive capacity of a candidate, and settle for one that guards the body against developing severe infection.
‘Testing kits overwhelmingly indigenous’
Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said in his presentation that India has managed an “explosive” increase in testing over the past few months, with 1,776 laboratories across the country currently testing samples for Covid-19.
Dr Paul said the increase in tests has been ensured by the fact that the kits being used are “overwhelmingly indigenous”.
“We have managed to become self-sufficient in this. You may have also read about the Feluda test that has just been approved. This will be like the rapid antigen test,” he added.
While India is conducting lakhs of tests everyday, the number for the last seven days — 70,13,506 samples — is 6 lakh lower than that for the week before.
Bhushan said, for the first time since May, India has seen more recoveries than the number of new cases for four consecutive days, which is very important.
He also gave the week-on-week case numbers of seven states — Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Delhi and West bengal — to make his point that the situation is looking better now.
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