No, COVID is not over. In the worst possibility, it might relapse as the so-called third-wave with more vigour, more devastation. “Inching up” as AIIMS Director Dr Randeep Guleria apprehends in an interview to NDTV, “this R-value is a matter of concern. Starting from 0.96, and going all the way up to 1.0.” This R-value is a key factor in gauging the coronavirus pandemic. It refers to the ‘effective reproduction number’ of COVID-19. An R-value of 1 is a crucial threshold. With its exponential growth, an R-value even slightly over 1.0 can lead to a large number of cases in no time. The epidemiologists are, however, not so much relying on this parameter emanating from mathematical models based on ground data because of questions regarding the authenticity and accuracy of the data. Still, whether they downplay this R-factor or not, the basic indication of Dr Guleria cannot be ignored – the upsurge in the R-value signalling a more rapid rate of spread of the dreaded virus. There lies the issue of concern.

With the waxing and waning of COVID waves in the last one and a half year, India has experienced acute to severe situations. All attempts to fight back, including continuous augmentation in the strength of health services, have fallen short at the engulfing pattern of the spread of the contagious virus. To date, more than four lakh fatalities are officially reported, keeping alive the apprehension of undercounting as reported by national media frequently. With questions remaining on the records of data, it is however generally accepted by all that this pandemic has hit our academics, our economy at its worst. Not going too deep inside these grey shades, it can easily be concluded that India is perhaps tired and afraid of facing virus incursion once more, so much so that apprehension has become unbearable at this stage too many who have faced tough situations in the recent past. This angst echoed in the words of Dr Guleria as he emphasized again on the ‘test, track, treat’ mantra relying on the basic epidemiolocal philosophy of ‘breaking the chain.’

It has been tough to formulate a reliable epidemiological model for the Indian scenario as data reflects the very strange behaviour of the proliferation of the virus chain. From mid-June to the end of July 2021, the number of daily new cases remain almost at the same level, on an average above 40 thousand, giving rise to a long plateau.

Question is, what’s the indication. ICMR, CDC and other research agencies are apprehending that a sharp peak might be imminent if concrete measures and precautions are not adopted by all corners. And, there are reasons behind that. A recently published report of the serological survey conducted by ICMR, fourth in the series since the onslaught of the pandemic in early 2020, says that presently seroprevalence in India is showing a convincing figure of 67%. This seroprevalence means the percentage of individuals in a population who have antibodies to that infectious virus. A seroprevalence survey (or serosurvey) measures the antibodies in the blood samples collected from different parts of the country and by extrapolation puts forward a picture of the prevailing situation and predicts the future trait.

ICMR, in this fourth serosurvey conducted in June and July across 21 states, tested blood samples of 36,227 people. This time the survey included children between 6 and 17 years – of which more than half were found having antibodies. Among the States Madhya Pradesh (79%), Rajasthan (76.2%) and Bihar (75.9%) are having the highest seroprevalence, whereas Kerala (44.4%), Assam (50.3%) and Maharashtra (58%) are weakest on it. The brighter side is that 67% of Indians having seroprevalence, which means two-third of the Indian population have already been exposed to the virus and are having antibodies. This number is much higher than the result of the third serosurvey (conducted during December 2020 and January 2021) which recorded 21.5% of adults having antibodies.

Interestingly, the total number of confirmed cases in the country is around 3.17 crores which accounts for only less than 3% of the total population. Single-dose vaccinated persons accounts for 19% of the total population (in June). So, out of that 67% had antibodies for the pathogen most of the rest, about 45%, have developed antibodies through contracting the virus, of whom there has been no official record. It’s an indication of a surge towards herd immunity.

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Yes, these are inspiring rays of hope, but there is no room for complacency, say experts. There remain more than 40 crores who are still acutely vulnerable. Over and above that, the vaccination rate in the country is also low, only 4% of the adults are being fully vaccinated at the present date. Furthermore, in the wake of the relaxation of the COVID protocols in the states, people are showing lax and have started crowding at public places disregarding COVID protocols.

Scientists and doctors are warning repeatedly that such negligence might expedite the onslaught of the apprehended third wave. Most importantly, no vaccine is having 100% efficacy and can give full protection in contracting the virus. Although, as per CDC, double vaccination results in a very low viral load in case of infection (after two weeks of second vaccine dose), but in most of such cases affected persons remain asymptomatic and unknowingly become silent spreaders. The continuous mutation of the virus is also another grave concern. As such, following COVID appropriate behaviour at each level, in every social interaction is essential in the fight against the pandemic. Along with this, virologists say that an aggressive vaccination drive can lead us to face and handle the coming situation better than the cases of the previous two waves. Attaining herd immunity in a country of 135 crore populace is arduous, but not impossible if all stakeholders do their bit appropriately.

The government is reviewing and evaluating new medical and containment strategies as the virological and physical nature of the pandemic is changing. We also need to keep us updated on this and follow in letter and spirit the advisories issued from time to time by the Government for the sake of our family, our neighbours, our society and above all for our Country. The fight is still on, and the situation demands our pragmatic contributions.

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