Not out of the woods, yet

| Updated on September 03, 2021

Covid lurks, despite the prediction that it is turning endemic. There is no room for laxity now

India is entering a new phase in its battle against Covid-19. There are markers which suggest that the worst is behind us. First, the spurt in vaccination coverage, at least the first dose, could protect the infected from a severe bout of Covid for the next few months — for which the Centre and the States deserve credit. Second, the rise in sero positivity levels (percentage of population with antibodies) across States too suggests a measure of immunity. Third, the test positivity rate (percentage of Rt PCR tested population that reports positive) too is low in most areas, except for Kerala which is a remarkable outlier. Yet a note of caution needs to be sounded, even as it is undoubtedly a heartening sight to see children return to schools and commerce picking up slowly. There are a couple of new mutants doing the rounds. The all-India daily case count hovers around a worrisome 40,000 cases with a spike taking the total to 45,352 on Friday morning — led by Kerala, which accounts for two-thirds of the reported cases. India is nowhere close to the 70 per cent fully-vaccinated stage which the WHO considers safe enough to allow resumption of near-normal activities. The fully vaccinated account for just about 16 per cent of the population, while 54 per cent have received one shot.

Unpacking the data reveals an interesting picture across States, underscoring the need for a localised, calibrated approach towards resuming normal activity. The latest ICMR survey of antibody seropositivity reveals that Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh have a high seropositivity rate, between 70 and 79 per cent, although their vaccine coverage is still on the lower side. Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are at the bottom end of this vaccination pile with less than 44 and 43 per cent of their eligible population having got their first dose of vaccination although their seropositivity level is high — 75.9 per cent for Bihar and 71 per cent for UP. Hence, some experts are of the view that the virus is turning endemic in India. Accordingly, some States have lifted restrictions on businesses, trade and started reopening schools. However, the resumption of normal business should be led by a focus on test positivity ratio, proportion of cases needing hospitalisation and mortality rate. In this context, Maharashtra’s graded approach to unlocking is worth emulating.

Kerala’s experience is instructive. Even as over 50 per cent of its adult population has received the first dose, the seropositivity in the general population is just 44.4 per cent. It has been lax in enforcing Covid protocols. With the festive season approaching, let us not take comfort in the endemicity argument. India is not out of the woods yet.

Published on September 03, 2021

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