Covid pandemic will continue in 2021, India seeing 2nd Covid wave in some areas: AIIMS chief Dr Randeep Guleria

Covid pandemic will continue in 2021, India seeing 2nd Covid wave in some areas

he coronavirus pandemic is likely to spillover to 2021 and continues for some months given the trend in the rise of daily Covid-19 cases at present, said Dr Randeep Guleria, Director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi.

Dr Randeep Guleria, who is a key member of the central government’s special task force on Covid-19, said the number of Covid-19 cases in India will continue to rise for some more months before starting to flatten.

“We can’t say that the pandemic will not spillover to 2021 but what we can say is that the curve will be flatter instead of rising very steeply. We should be able to say the pandemic is ending early next year,” Dr Randeep Guleria said in an interview to India Today TV’s Consulting Editor Rajdeep Sardesai on Friday.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: Why is the COVID curve not flattening?

Ans: The Covid-19 infection has now spread across India and has reached smaller cities and rural areas. This is why the numbers have increased. This is somewhat on expected lines. Considering the size of our population, the number of cases will rise further for some months before they flatten out.

Because of our population, we will have a huge number of cases in absolute numbers, but in terms of cases per million, our figure is lower.

Q: Are parts of India seeing the second wave of Covid-19 e.g. Delhi?

Ans: Yes, we are seeing a resurgence of cases. We can say that we are seeing some sort of a second wave in certain parts of the country.

There are multiple factors for this. One of them is our testing capacity has been boosted tremendously. We are now conducting more than a million tests every day. In areas where we test more, we will definitely pick up more cases.

However, the more important factor that I think is responsible for this resurgence is that many of us have gone into the stage of Covid behaviour fatigue. Many people who were very strict in terms of complying with the Covid safety measures in the initial phases, now seem to hold the view that enough is enough.

Even in Delhi people are not wearing masks, are gathering in crowds and the traffic jams are back to the pre-corona days. All this ends up pushing our numbers.

The sero-survey in Delhi showed that nearly 70 per cent of the national capital’s population is still susceptible to Covid-19.

Q: How soon do you think the world will have a Covid vaccine?

Ans: There are a large number of vaccines, including three from India, which are in an advance stage of development. But having said that, the most important issue for any vaccine is that it has to be safe.

Even if you look at the paper (regarding Russian vaccine Sputnik V) that was published in The Lancet today, the sample size is small. They (Russian researchers) have done the trials on a small number of volunteers and shown that the vaccine candidate does develop antibodies with some minor side effects.

We need to do trials at a larger scale i.e. phase 3 trials before you we can say we have a vaccine against Covid-19.

It is going to take a few more months for a vaccine to be developed. Hopefully, if everything goes well, it will be ready by the end of this year.

Q: How long will it take for universal vaccination?

Ans: That will take some time. The number of doses required to achieve universal vaccination will be in billions. Manufacturing them will take time. And, even when manufactured, it will have to be ensured that the vaccine(s) is distributed globally and those who need it the most are the ones to get it the first.

Q: How safe will it be to travel in the metro?

Ans: If you are careful in terms of physical distancing, wearing the mask properly and sanitising your hands when you touch bars and other surfaces, then you should be fine.

But if we start having a situation where the metro is jam-packed and there is no hand sanitisation, then we are going to have a problem.

The metro is alright, it is our behaviour that can be problematic.

Q: Should mask violators be fined heavily?

Ans: We need to develop mechanisms to ensure people wear masks properly. The mechanism has to be decided by the relevant authorities but there has to be some sort of deterrent so that people don’t spread the infection to others.

Q: Is it advisable to wear gloves if travelling outside?

Ans: If you are able to sanitise your hands correctly, you don’t need to wear gloves. Wearing gloves is fine but they too have to be sanitised. You should not be touching your face with gloves on because they are likely to be contaminated.

Q: How risky is opening of bars and pubs?

Ans: You have to be very careful while visiting them. Bars, pubs and restaurants must ensure proper social distancing. The bottom line is to ensure Covid appropriate behaviour wherever you are going. If you don’t, then you are prone to get infected.

Q: Is it safe to have dinner, drinks with friends?

Ans: Such small gatherings are still a bit dangerous because there can be a number of people who are Covid positive but are asymptomatic. There have been instances where people had small parties and it led to the spread of the infection among its attendees.

Currently, with the number of Covid-19 cases rising, it is best to avoid these gatherings.

Q: Are primary schools safe to be reopened?

Ans: I don’t think we are in a situation to open schools unless we see a drastic decline in cases in a particular region. Without it, schools should not be opened. You can’t expect small children to ensure social distancing all the time or wear masks. They may get infected and then carry it to their houses and infect the elderly and others.

We would have to wait for some more time for schools to reopen.

Q: Can asymptomatic cases also suffer lung damage?

Ans: This is something that has emerged recently and there have been some studies on it too. People who carried out CT scans of asymptomatic cases found that in about 20-30 per cent cases there were some patches in the lung when the cases were asymptomatic. In most of them, these patches vanished spontaneously without leaving any residual damage. But in some cases, it did cause scarring of lungs.

This is why even asymptomatic cases have to be cautious.

Q: How serious is the risk of reinfection?

Ans: There have been cases of reinfection in some parts of the world. At this point in time, reinfection is not the major concern. There is sufficient data to suggest that antibodies once created in a Covid patient can protect the person from reinfection for at least some time three-six months at least. What happens 9-12 months on, needs to be studied.