India and the Corona Virus. Where’d it go wrong?
As I’m writing this article, India has about 412,431 new cases and a 7 day average of 385,856 cases. The government has issued new, stricter guidelines for testing. Scientists are screaming on top of their lungs, warning the people about the third wave. People are unable to get the oxygen they desperately need and the country is facing a massive vaccine shortage. But this wasn’t the case 6 months back. So what happened?
We really need to go in-depth about what happened in India. 1 in 3 vaccines are made in India and they are the world’s largest drug manufacturer. So whatever happens in India, affects the rest of the world at least when we talk in terms of medical drug supply.
Here are a few things that didn’t help India see the second wave:
- Over-optimistic studies
- The arrival of newer, deadlier variants.
- Mass gatherings everywhere
According to researchers, many over-optimistic studies were stating that the worst for India was done as upwards of 50% of the population in the cities of Mumbai and Delhi had already been infected by the virus. Clearly, this conclusion is incorrect but not many know why.
These figures made some researchers optimistic that the next stage of the pandemic would be less severe, says Ramanan Laxminarayan, an epidemiologist in Princeton University, New Jersey, who is based in New Delhi. But the latest eruption of COVID-19 is forcing them to rethink.
The antibody data did not reflect the uneven spread of the virus, agrees Gagandeep Kang, a virologist at the Christian Medical College in Vellore, India. “The virus may be getting into populations that were previously able to protect themselves,” she says. That could include wealthier urban communities, in which people isolated during the first wave but had started mingling by the second.
Newer, stronger and faster variants
Genomic studies conducted by researchers paint a different picture. The B.1.1.7 variant, otherwise known as the UK variant has been pretty dominant in the Indian state of Punjab for a while now with variants such as B.1.617 or the Double Mutant which is a combo of the California variant and an indigenous variant that’s similar to the Brazillian/South African variant and the N440K variant that’s a 1000 times more effective in infecting a person. The table below pretty much explains the picture by itself.
Pandemic, what’s that? Let’s have a wedding!
With cases declining after last September’s peak, “there was a public narrative that India had conquered COVID-19”, says Laxminarayan. In recent months, large crowds have gathered indoors and outdoors for political rallies, religious celebrations and weddings.
In the past few months, the middle and upper-class citizens who had the resources to shield themselves from the first wave started venturing out of their homes thinking the worst was over. We could see high profile business people attending the weddings of politicians and other influential people. Some gathered to go to the movies, dining etc. behaving as though the virus never existed. Everything was almost back to normal until it wasn’t.
If this was bad, then look at the government's silence over the Kumbh Mela and political rallies held in the past few months. The people had the power to coerce the government to stop all this drama.
I wouldn’t be the first to say that actions have consequence but I certainly won’t be the last one.
We have the problem, where’s the solution?
One of the solutions is vaccinating the whole population as soon as possible. India’s indigenous vaccine — Covaxin has been proved to be effective against the newer variants in India. As of 1st May, everyone over the age of 18 is eligible to get vaccinated. Even with such measures, experts think that it’ll be a while before a sizeable percent of the population is vaccinated for herd immunity.
Another solution is to distribute masks and gloves for free rather than handing out punishments for not wearing them. After a certain point, people tend to rebel against these rules and only wear them to avoid fines and punishments. I’m not saying that fines aren’t needed but authorities and religious establishments must encourage people to wear masks.
“When we perceive something is coming along and forcing us to do something that we don’t want to do, we push back,” David Just, behavioral economist at Cornell University, said.
Other solutions include contact tracing and mapping the virus on a computer and use AI/ML to predict where the virus will go next and how it may mutate itself. All of this could have been done by citizens at home had the data been published in the public domain by the government which would have reduced the cost incurred by them. If we treat the Corona virus-like a thousand mini-epidemics instead of a giant pandemic, we could identify small epicentres and divert supplies accordingly and using this data we could predict potential epicentres. This technique was used by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to combat the polio epidemic in northern Africa.
These are just a few solutions that may work in India. If a group of people come together and brainstorm, they can come up with ideas that are 100 times more effective.
That’s how India came to where it is now. You’ll find the references below.