Even as the Indian healthcare system is still reeling from the devastation of the second Covid wave, AIIMS director Dr. Randeep Guleria has warned of an impending third wave.
The primary problem for the country is vaccinating a large population, and increasing the dosage intervals for Covishield "may not be a bad" way to give protection to more individuals, said the AIIMS chief.
Dr. Guleria highlighted that a new frontier in India's fight against Covid would need to be established to further research the virus's mutation as he discussed the new Delta-plus variation, which has arisen from the Delta variant of COVID-19, raising new worries regarding monoclonal antibody therapy.
"As we have started unlocking, there is again a lack of Covid-appropriate behaviour. We don't seem to have learnt from what happened between the first and the second wave. Again crowds are building up... people are gathering. It will take some time for the number of cases to start rising at the national level. Third wave is inevitable and it could hit the country within the next six to eight weeks... may be a little longer," Dr Guleria said.
"It all depends on how we go ahead in terms of Covid-appropriate behaviour and preventing crowds," he added.
So far, about 5% of the country's population has received two doses of the vaccine. By the end of this year, the government hopes to have vaccinated 108 million of the country's 130 crores citizens.
"That (vaccination) is the main challenge. A new wave can usually take up to three months but it can also take much lesser time, depending on various factors. Apart from Covid-appropriate behaviour, we need to ensure strict surveillance. Last time, we saw a new variant - which came from outside and developed here - and led to the huge surge in the number of cases. We know the virus will continue to mutate. Aggressive surveillance in hotspots is required," the AIIMS chief said.
"Mini-lockdown in any part of the country, which witnesses a surge and a rise in positivity rate beyond 5 per cent, will be required. Unless we're vaccinated, we're vulnerable in the coming months," he said, emphasising the need for "testing, tracking, and treating." "should be the focal point in hotspots.
"We have to factor in human behaviour while unlocking, which needs to be done in a graded manner," Dr Guleria said.
Virus is still evolving, we need to be vigilant, Guleria warned of the Delta variant's spread in the United Kingdom, which is now facing a third wave.
"During the first wave (in India), the virus was not spreading that rapidly... all that changed during the second wave, and the virus became much more infectious. Now the Delta variant that's spreading is much more infectious. Faster spread is likely," said the AIIMS chief.
A devastating second wave had resulted in a scarcity of hospital beds and medical resources throughout India. SOS messages on social media have captured the attention of the entire world, with several governments stepping forward to assist. Following weeks of severe restrictions, some states have already reduced the limitations; nonetheless, preparations for the third wave are underway.
Experts in Maharashtra have now warned that the third wave of the virus may generate up to 8 lakh active cases in the state, which presently has approximately 1.4 lakh people.
"When there is a huge increase in the number of cases, shortage of (hospital) beds follows. The strategy should be multi-pronged - we have to make sure fresh cases don't rise. Any healthcare system globally will tend to collapse with the unprecedented rise in the infections," Dr Guleria said.
"We need an aggressive genome sequencing to see how the virus is behaving. Does the vaccine efficacy come down, does the monoclonal antibody treatment work? To do all of that, we need to have a large or very good network of labs to study the data. I think that's where to move in the next few weeks. And that's the new frontier we need to develop if we want to succeed in our fight against Covid," explained the AIIMS chief on the nature of the Delta plus coronavirus variant.
According to Union health ministry statistics updated on Saturday, India's overall tally increased to 2,98,23,546 with 60,753 new Covid cases recorded in a day, while the number of active cases stands at 7,60,019, the lowest in 74 days.