India need not worry over the resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Southeast Asia and parts of Europe, say, experts, pointing out the high vaccination coverage and immunity due to natural infection. They feel any future wave is unlikely to have a major impact in India and want the Government to consider relaxing the mask mandate as the daily Covid-19 cases and deaths have remained low for a while.
The country on March 20 recorded 1,761 fresh Covid-19 cases, the lowest in around 688 days, and 127 deaths. The active cases also declined further to 26,240, according to government data.
Dr. Sanjay Rai, the senior epidemiologist at AIIMS and the principal investigator of Covaxin trials for both adults and children at the institute, said that SARS-CoV-2 is an RNA virus, and mutations are bound to occur.
“India experienced a very devastating second wave last year, which was very unfortunate, but currently this is our main strength as natural infection provides better and longer duration of protection. Also, there is high vaccination coverage. Hence, the severe impact of any future wave is unlikely,” said Rai, Professor at the Centre for Community Medicine at AIIMS in New Delhi.
“It is also time that the Indian Government may consider relaxing the mask mandate,” he said, adding that senior citizens and those at a higher risk of contracting the infection should continue wearing masks as a precautionary measure.
If we analyze data on seroprevalence, vaccination coverage, and evidence on the spread of Omicron, it is logical to conclude that the Covid-19 epidemic in India is over
Having said that, Rai emphasized the Government should continue with the SARS-CoV-2 surveillance, including genomic sequencing, to monitor the emergence of any future variant. According to Dr Chandrakant Lahariya, an epidemiologist and public health specialist, the possibility of a fresh surge in India is low even with a new variant.
“If we analyze data on seroprevalence, vaccination coverage, and evidence on the spread of Omicron, it is logical to conclude that the Covid-19 epidemic in India is over. For India, the possibility of a fresh surge for many months and even with a new variant is low,” he said.
The reason is that because of the hybrid immunity after three waves of natural infection and a large proportion of adults receiving both doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, the susceptible pool has come down drastically, Lahariya said.
He also said the time is right to do away with the mask mandate for the majority of the population. “It is also the time that the Indian Government reviews and revises the face mask-related regulation. The time has come that the mask requirement for the majority of the population can be done away with. It can be done in a graded manner,” he stated.
Dr. Jugal Kishore, head of Community Medicine at Safdarjung Hospital, New Delhi, said due to the high prevalence of seropositivity, which indicates that more than 80-90 percent of the population has been infected by a coronavirus, measures like wearing masks can be done away with. He also pointed out that due to high natural infection, people are unlikely to have severe symptoms if a new wave of coronavirus comes.
Dr. NK Arora, chairman of the Covid-19 working group of National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI), said given the high vaccination coverage and the widespread of the disease, the possibility of India being hit by a severe wave is less likely. But that should not lead to the lowering of the guard as there is always the risk of new variants emerging.
The Union Health Ministry recently asked all states and Union Territories to ensure that an adequate number of samples is submitted to the INSACOG network for timely detection of new Covid-19 variants.
It also asked them to restart monitoring influenza-like illness and severe acute respiratory infections so that no early warning signals are missed and COVID-19 is controlled. Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya had chaired a high-level meeting on March 16 during which states were advised to focus on aggressive genome sequencing, intensified surveillance, and overall vigil on the Covid-19 situation.