The government of India seems to have realized a key fact in the fight against COVID-19: Allowing the virus to circulate freely — even if it doesn’t lead to deaths — is poor strategy when it comes to controlling the pandemic.
Addressing a meeting of chief ministers today, Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasized the need to remain vigilant against large-scale transmission of the virus — even though the country has seen a sharp drop in the number of registered cases of COVID-19 in the last several days.
“According to experts, allowing the virus to circulate will lead to the generation of new variants,” Modi reminded the chief ministers, urging them not to become complacent as regards COVID-19 in their states.
Moreover, he pointed out, the virus is very much active in and around the country, and referred to states like Kerala and Maharashtra, where thousands of new cases continue to be detected every day.
He urged the chief ministers to be mindful of the situation in other countries — including neighbours like Bangladesh and Pakistan, as well as countries in the Europe, where the virus is making a huge comeback after having subsided several months ago.
Cases in the United Kingdom, where nearly 75% of the people are vaccinated, have jumped to nearly 50,000 per day from around 20,000 per day two weeks ago.
The US, where people stopped wearing masks in many places three months ago, is also seeing a sharp spike in new cases in the last ten days or so.
The comments come on a day when the central government opposed the stand taken by the Yogi Adityanath government in Supreme Court of India in the case of the Kavad religious procession case.
While the Uttar Pradesh government told the court that the religions processions, which involve tens of millions of people, posed no serious threat to the health of the people, the central government came out on the other side and said such processions should not be allowed.
Modi had, earlier this month, changed the union health minister, replacing Dr. Harsh Vardhan with Mansukh Mandaviya, a BJP leader from his home state with a reputation for getting things done.
Meanwhile, countries across the world are seeing a third wave of COVID-19, caused by a new variant of the COVID-19 virus that is supposed to have originated in India late in 2020. India had adopted a more relaxed posture on controlling the virus last year after it seemed that the fatality rate of the virus among Indians was very low. This had led to widespread replication of the virus in the Indian population.
The new variant behind the latest wave of infections across the world used to be called the Indian variant as it was first detected in India, and was therefore supposed to be originated here late last year. It was later renamed Delta variant by the World Health Organization after countries objected to calling viruses by geographic names.
Even though the highly transmissible Delta variant is estimated to have reached the UK only two months ago via travellers from India, it currently accounts for over 99% of the new cases in the country.
The Delta variant has since spread to other countries such as Portugal, France, Indonesia, Germany and the US, where it now accounts for nearly 60% of the total cases.
Even countries that had managed to keep a lid on the earlier form of the virus, such as South Korea, Japan, Israel and Germany, are unable to control this highly transmissible form of the virus.
India was the first country to experience the full fury of the Delta variant back in April and May, and saw acute distress as desperate patients lined up outside overflowing hospitals, seeking oxygen and care.
Unlike the earlier variants, the Delta variant also affects young people as well as those who have previous immunity to COVID-19, whether from vaccines or exposure.
Because of this, the number of vaccinated people have overtaken the number of unvaccinated people in UK’s daily COVID-19 cases.
Even as the rest of the world grapples with the Delta variant, another new form of the virus, called Delta Plus, has already been detected in India, and has been found in several states.
Delta Plus is supposed to be distinct enough from the Delta variant to potentially trigger a new waves of infections in the country, including in areas highly exposed to the Delta variant, such as Maharashtra, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.
Meanwhile, the UK government has allowed people in England to roam about — including on public transport — without wearing masks from Monday, even though the number of daily cases are expected to rise to 70,000 from the currently 50,000 by then.
The government in the UK believes that the number of new cases of hospitalization, which is around 600/day at present, will remain under control at around 1000 cases/day even in the worst case scenario, and can therefore be managed by the healthcare system in the country.
Experts have, meanwhile, warned that the daily cases in the UK could cross the 150,000 mark, and this can lead to the emergence of new variants of the virus that may be able to dodge the defences put up by the vaccines.