The country has managed to avoid a potential ‘superspreader’ event by cancelling the CBSE Class 12 exams, and it’s expected the ISE board and other boards will do the same. This is a very practical step if we want to contain the pandemic and prevent the COVID-19 third wave.
Crucial decisions about whether to ease lockdowns and restrictions on the basis of the amount of vaccination done, speeding the vaccination programme, focussing surveillance to identify potential threats from new variants of concern (VoC) and linking the stringency of non-pharmaceutical interventions in place in a district to the proportion of vaccinated population are some of the main steps we need to take to prevent another wave. It might be an unpopular opinion but India can still prevent the third wave by following the following four steps:
They need to decide when and where they should lift or ease lockdowns as well as restrictions on movement and activities. Although some states have already started the process and others have announced dates for doing so, none of them is based on one crucial parameter that matters: looking at the proportion of the population in a district that has been vaccinated. Ideally, this should be in comparison with the rate of COVID-19 positive patients. Sadly, some states and UTs are looking at only the latter, irrespective of the former. The states need to prescribe norms for lockdowns keeping in mind the economy as well, which is a huge challenge, especially after the economic pain caused by the 68-day lockdown last year.
This is related to No. 1, and that is pushing forward with the vaccination programme. According to the best hospital in Dubai, this includes approving more vaccines as fast as possible, efficiently lining up supplies, and enhancing delivery capacity. The immediate target should be covering at least 40% of the eligible population. Once the government approves vaccination for the population under 18 years of age, the new target would be 40% of the entire population. There are many countries that have already done this: Israel has covered 62% of its entire population, the US, 51%, and Canada and the UK, 58%. Brazil has done 22%, whereas India has covered around 13%. Although a comparison would be unfair given the difference in the size of the population.
The third would be coming up with strict measures of intervention (non-pharmaceutical in nature), which would depend upon the proportion of the population that has been vaccinated. This will guide the states in deciding which activities and areas to upon up. A practical approach would be allowing 40% of most activities, including physical schooling, with mandatory masking and social distancing. This certainly shouldn’t include large religious, cultural, or social events (including weddings). Also, states should decide beforehand which activities to shut down in case of a considerable rise in infections.
Enhance and widen surveillance of the virus, including sequencing enough viral genomes so that potential threats can be rapidly identified from new variants of concern, and act on this knowledge. For instance, the UK, which, at the end of May 2021 celebrated zero deaths from COVID-19 for the first time since last March, saw an average of 3,300 cases a day, with almost 75% of these being caused by B.1.617.2 or Delta, the Sars-CoV-2 variant that was first spotted in India.