Top WHO scientists recently said India may have reached the Covid-19 epidemic stage. The BBC’s Zoya Mateen explains what this means for the country’s fight against viruses.
Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist at the World Health Organization (WHO), said on Tuesday that India appears to be “in an epidemic phase.”
Diseases are described as endemic if they continue to exist within a particular geographical area, but their effects are manageable.
Her remarks are made when India relaxes restrictions as the number of Covid-19 cases declines. The daily number of cases dropped from a peak of 400,000 in April to about 25,000 this week.
However, experts continue to advise preventative measures, saying that the possibility of a third wave is still imminent. And given the threat of new variants and India’s vast population, the timeline for when India actually reaches the endemic stage remains an open question.
Is there a third wave?
The answer depends largely on how quickly India can officially declare that it has reached the endemic stage.
In an interview with the Wire News website, Swaminasan said India, like some other countries, has reached a “low level of infection” stage, unlike “exponential growth and peaks seen months ago.”
When the majority of the population gains immunity to the disease, either by vaccination or by antibodies obtained from previous infections, it reaches the endemic stage of any disease.
In this state, the spread of the disease begins to slow down, explains epidemiologist Dr. Lalit Kant.
Dr. Shahid Jameel, a prominent virologist, said endemic does not mean that infection does not occur. “It simply means that it does not cause a wide range of illnesses.”
Ms. Swaminasan said India will continue to experience “ups and downs” at the regional level, but apart from infectious diseases such as those seen during the second wave when patients were suffering from a sharp shortage of beds and medical oxygen. It was suggested that it was unlikely that we would see an overwhelming surge in.
She has a local peak among people in “probably less affected by the first and second waves, or low vaccination rates,” given India’s uneven population. I added that.
However, she said, “there is no crystal ball,” she said, “when, where, and how bad the third wave will be,” she said, and “you can only guess based on your knowledge.”
What does the government say?
The government has called on people to stay cautious.
Since March last year, India has reported more than 32 million Covid cases after the United States. Official figures show that more than 435,000 people have died, but experts say the actual numbers are likely to be much higher.
There is no doubt that India’s case load has decreased.
But government experts have repeatedly warned that if officials and people stop being cautious, the third wave is still very likely. A government panel recently said the next wave could peak as early as October.
Experts say the government has repeatedly issued warnings after being strongly criticized for failing to predict the second wave.
In March, the government declared that the country had won the fight against the virus weeks before the second wave caused turmoil across the country.
Is it possible to eradicate the virus?
It’s hard to predict exactly the future of Covid-19, but scientists say there’s little reason to believe that the virus will be gone soon.
However, scientists say that the spread of the infection may eventually stabilize to levels that exist among people, but the proportion is relatively low and predictable. Experts say that the number of people in need of hospitals will decrease and severe cases will be rare.
“The disease continues to spread and people are still infected, but not at a level that raises public health concerns,” said virologist Jacob John.
He added that the endemic stage means that the virus becomes like the common flu and malaria.
“It will burn among people on a regular basis, but it won’t disrupt life,” he said.
Mr. Swaminasan repeated the same idea.
“You can’t reasonably want to get rid of or eradicate the virus, but when the virus becomes epidemic, you can learn to live with it.”
How soon will India reach the stage of endemic disease?
Experts say it’s too early to say.
Coronaviruses will eventually become endemic-all viruses will become endemic, Jameel said.
“As more and more people become infected and vaccinated, we will see infections, but we will not see many illnesses.”
“This is happening in the UK, where more than 60% of the population is fully vaccinated, and there are few severe infections or deaths, even though the overall infection remains high. “He added.
But in a vast country like India (less than 15% of the nearly 1 billion eligible population is fully vaccinated), experts say this “will happen in 6 months and next year or later.” I say it’s difficult to say.
As long as people are susceptible to infections, Kant said, “We can’t reach that stage because the outbreak continues.”
According to experts, India also needs to keep an eye on new variants.
In the presence of mutants that are more infectious than Delta, the strain can circulate very widely in infected or vaccinated populations, Jameel explains.
Other experts agree.
“The new variant will escape immunity, and as long as it happens, you can never claim that the virus is in the endemic stage,” Kant said.
This is of particular concern for India, where many are still vulnerable to viruses.
According to John, trying to classify a foreign country as an endemic population may not be accurate at this time.
But a bigger point from Ms. Swaminasan’s statement is, “We shouldn’t be complacent, we should learn to live with the virus,” he said.
“Endemic can turn into an epidemic due to viruses and changes in our behavior. We will never return to 2019.”