COVID-19: Ongoing ‘Third Wave’ of infections a biggest crisis

India's Covid-19 caseload surpassed the 90-lakh mark on Friday with 45,882 new cases, while the recoveries surged to 84.28 lakh pushing the national recovery rate to 93.6 per cent, according to the Union Health Ministry data. The total coronavirus cases mounted to 90,04,365 and the death toll climbed to 1,32,162 with the novel coronavirus virus claiming 584 lives in a span of 24 hours in the country, the data updated at 8 am showed. India's Covid tally had crossed the 20-lakh mark on August 7, 30 lakh on August 23 and 40 lakh on September 5.
Delhi is sinking deeper into the Covid quagmire. The national capital’s biggest single-day case spike and the highest single-day death toll so far have both been reported this month. Over one lakh new coronavirus cases were recorded between November 1 and 16. After the outbreak of the pandemic in March, it had taken Delhi four months to reach the count of one lakh cases. It’s obvious that a major opportunity to ramp up healthcare infrastructure during the lockdown months, when the caseload was relatively manageable, has been frittered away. The ongoing ‘third wave’ of infections is proving to be the most virulent, exposing the under-preparedness of the authorities. Hopefully, the four-fold hike in the fine for not wearing a mask will make them see reason. Otherwise, National Capital’s’s failure may undermine the country’s efforts to contain the pandemic.
The good news is that the worst may be behind us: The world is close to a vaccine breakthrough. Pfizer and Moderna have achieved a high degree of efficacy — at over 90%, it is much safer than initially assumed — using radical technologies which have the potential to tackle other critical diseases. There are other vaccines too, many at the third stage of trial, with a high possibility of success. All of this means that by early next year, the world will have a basket of vaccine options on the menu to choose from. Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said, on Thursday, that a vaccine will be available in three to four months and that India has made arrangements to vaccinate 250-300 million people in the first phase.
So far India has booked 1.6 billion doses with Novavax-SII, Oxford-AstraZeneca-SII whose Phase 3 trial results are expected soon, and Gamaleya Institute which developed Sputnik V. Indian companies like Bharat Biotech and Zydus Cadila are also in the race. While the fast progress in trials is a morale booster, a long timeline for vaccinating the general population beckons.
The ongoing global spurt of infections this winter is likely the biggest crisis moment in the pandemic. Delhi’s current hospital and ICU bed situations are behind the curve. A national spike of similar scale could overpower states with poor public health capacity. With lockdowns no more an option, governments must keep several balls up in the air: bolstering reliable testing, ICU bed capacity, vaccine logistics and the economy.

- Prabhakar Purandare

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