India’s Covid-19 surge has startled scientific communities. In December 2020 and January 2021, studies that tested for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies (also referred to as the Sero-Survey), which is an indicator of past infection, estimated that more than 50% of the population in some areas of India’s big cities had already been exposed to the virus, which should have conferred some immunity. The studies also indicated that nationally, some 271 million people — about one-fifth of India’s population of 1.4 billion — had been infected.
However, one explanation for the current massive Covid-19 surge could be that the antibody study may not have been a true representative of the entire population and potentially overestimated exposure in other groups or sample size of the study was too small.
The first wave primarily hit the urban poor and the number of patients was still low (compared to the second wave). So, there is no review about the state of preparedness and availability of necessary medicare. This time, the virus is moving into societies that were previously able to protect themselves. That includes well-to-do urban and middle-class communities in which people took Covid-appropriate protocol seriously during the first wave but had started mingling by the second one.
In the last some months, large crowds have gathered indoors and outdoors for election campaigns, religious celebrations and wedding parties. With cases declining in winters after the peak in September 2020, there was a public narrative that India had defeated Covid-19 and we started exporting/donating vaccines to earn the title of Vaccine Guru. The nationwide vaccination programme, which rolled out in January for the elderly as well frontline workers, has also contributed to the surge in cases as it caused people to ease public health measures.
And the second reason to worry is that multiple variants of the virus that causes Covid-19 are circulating globally as well as within India. Genomic surveillance data reveal that the B.1.1.7 variant that was first identified in the United Kingdom has become the dominant form of virus in Punjab. In the month of March, the Indian Health Ministry reported that 15-20% of the coronavirus sequenced in Maharashtra – an early hotspot of the country’s second wave – contained two mutations, namely E484Q and L425R, which have been linked to increased transmissibility and an ability to evade innate immune protection.
The severity of infection from the virus is pretty high this time and entire households are now getting infected — unlike in the first wave of Covid-19, when single individuals of the household would test positive. People aren’t buying the state-scripted narrative because for once, the images of burning bodies, constant wail of sirens and the fact that entire families are ill is crushing their souls.
Twitter is filled with SOS messages of acute shortage of necessary supplies by people and hospitals. Almost everyone is asking for some kind of help, though it represents only 10% of the actual cases. The Indian double mutant variant has been named B.1.617. It has now been mapped in 20 other countries also.
In these times, here are a few things we must follow to protect ourselves from catching the virus
Note: The article was originally published here.