Rajat Sharma

Covid threat: India is on a stronger wicket compared to China, says Dr Guleria

AKBAs scary visuals come in from China of bodies of Covid-19 victims being laid out inside containers, the Centre and state governments have revved up arrangements to ensure full preparedness in the face of fresh challenge. The Centre has asked all state governments to ensure adequate availability of liquid medical oxygen, and ensure adequate inventory of oxygen cylinders and ventilators in hospitals.

In my prime time show Aaj Ki Baat on Friday night, we showed fresh videos and pictures of large number of Covid patients undergoing treatment in hospitals of several big Chinese cities, apart from lineup of dead people inside body bags outside funeral parlours awaiting cremation. A Bloomberg report said, nearly 24.8 crore people, nearly 18 per cent of China’s population, have likely contracted Coronavirus in the first 20 days of December.

The report is based on what it said, minutes from an internal meeting of China’s National Health Commission held on Wednesday, and these were confirmed with people who attended the meeting. It said, nearly 37 million people in China may have been infected with Covronavirus on a single day this week, making China’s outbreak by far the world’s largest.

The report says, if accurate, the infection rate would dwarf the previous daily record of about 4 million Covid cases, set in January 2022. Despite repeated requests from World Health Organization, the Chinese government is not sharing accurate data about the number of active cases and deaths. It has not even shared the type of new variant that is sweeping the mainland.

This intransigence on part of China has caused fears about spread of the virus to other countries across the world. China is hiding the truth and it has put billions of people throughout the world at risk of pandemic. Even now, if China shares details about the variant that is sweeping the mainland, other countries can work on these date and evolve a proper and efficacious response.

India has already started genome sequencing on a large scale, apart from random testing of incoming passengers at international airports. Passengers having a travel history to China are on top of the watch list. There are 3,338 testing labs working on all Covid samples that are being collected. Precaution is better than cure – is now the new watchword.

On Friday night, in my show, I spoke to former AIIMS director Dr Randeep Guleria and asked him about the scary Bloomberg report on China. I asked him the reasons behind the sudden outbreak.

Dr Guleria said, there could be 3 main reasons: (1) Zero Covid policy followed by China for the last two years, as a result of which a large part of the Chinese population, due to lockdown, was never exposed to the virus and failed to gain natural immunity. The Chinese authorities did not allow even a mild virus to spread among its people, (2) Hardly 50 to 60 per cent people in senior age and high risk groups were vaccinated, and these groups have now been exposed to infection, (3) The rest of the world still does not know details about the variant that is sweeping China and there are lesser details about the efficacy of the Chinese vaccine. It clearly shows that a large part of the Chinese population has never faced the novel virus since 2020.

Dr Guleria said, the new variant in China is spreading at a faster rate compared to Omicron variant, resulting in a huge pileup of new cases. The new variant is spreading like a wild fire in the absence of herd immunity, he said.

Dr Guleria said, the Covishied and Covaxin vaccines which were administered in India are more efficacious in the face of new variants, which are sub-lineages of Omicron variant. Even the old vaccines made from Wuhan strain, are also giving protection. The intra-nasal vaccine that has been approved by the Centre will be able to respond better as booster dose. That is why our situation is vastly different from that of China, he added.

Asked why virus is spreading in the US, South Korea and Japan, Dr Guleria agreed that cases there were on the rise, but pointed out that there are very few hospitalizations and deaths due to these vaccines. “The Chinese variant will spread but will not be deadly in those countries where people have taken the right vaccines, and where the herd immunity is good”, Dr Guleria said.

“We must understand that this virus will continue to mutate because of immunoscape mechanism. Despite taking proper vaccines, people in India must follow Covid-appropriate behaviour, like social distancing, hand hygiene and wearing masks. I can only say that Coronavirus has not gone and the pandemic is not yet over”, Dr Guleria said.

We should listen to Dr Guleria’s advice fully. He has played an active role during the second Covid wave in India. His view is that there is nothing to worry or panic, but at the some time, there should be no space for negligence or complacency.

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