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By Sushil Silvano, Our Special Correspondent. Edited By Adam Rizvi, TIO: India’s focus should now be on how to prevent a Covid-19 third wave rather than discussing when it would hit India. Thus decreed Prime Minister Narendra Modi while addressing chief ministers of northeastern states on July 13.
Modi’s comments came even as top Union government officials highlighted evidence to show the third wave was already forming around the world and stressed the need to immediately step up measures and be vigilant. They said warnings of the third wave were being casually discussed in the manner of weather reports.
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“It is true tourism and business have been greatly affected due to corona, but today I will say with great emphasis that it is not right to have huge crowds in hill stations and markets without masks,” Modi said.
North-East states are presently seeing high positivity rates.
Citing examples of countries like the UK, Russia, Bangladesh, and Indonesia that are witnessing a surge in daily Covid-19 cases after a decline, the health officials raised concerns over a higher number of cases getting reported from across the world.
“When we talk about the third wave, we are taking it as a weather update and not understanding its seriousness and our responsibilities associated with it,” joint secretary in the health ministry, Lav Agarwal, said at a separate media briefing.
As if on cue, WHO chief Ghebreyesus warned that the Delta variant is ripping around the world at a scorching pace, driving a new spike in cases and death.
Delta is now in more than 104 countries and we expect it to soon be the dominant Covid-19 strain circulating worldwide, he said adding that the world is watching in real-time as the Covid-19 virus continues to change and become more transmissible.
The increased transmissibility associated with the COVID-19’s Delta variant is likely to substantially increase cases and put greater pressure on healthcare systems, particularly in the contexts of low vaccine coverage, the World Health Organization has warned.
In its COVID-19 Weekly Epidemiological Update released on July 13, the World Health Organisation said that an overall rise in COVID-19 cases due to the Delta variant is reported across all WHO regions.
As of July 13, at least 111 countries, territories, and areas have reported detection of the Delta variant, and this is expected to continue to increase, becoming the dominant variant globally in the coming months.
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Globally, cases of the Alpha variant have been reported in 178 countries, territories, or areas, while 123 countries reported cases of the Beta variant, 75 countries reported cases of the Gamma variant.
“The increased transmissibility means that it is likely to become the dominant variant globally over the coming months,” the update said.
WHO chief Ghebreyesus said, “My message today is that we are experiencing a worsening public health emergency that further threatens lives, livelihoods, and a sound global economic recovery. It is definitely worse in places that have very few vaccines, but the pandemic is not over anywhere, he said, underscoring that the world should battle together to put out this pandemic inferno everywhere.
Noting that as the Delta variant spreads, not everywhere is taking the same hit, the WHO chief said we’re in the midst of a growing two-track pandemic where the haves and have-nots within and between countries are increasingly divergent.
In places with high vaccination coverage, Delta, first detected in India, is spreading quickly; especially infecting unprotected and vulnerable people and steadily putting pressure back on health systems. In countries with low vaccine coverage, the situation is particularly bad, he warned, stressing that Delta and other highly transmissible variants are driving catastrophic waves of cases, which are translating into high numbers of hospitalizations and death. Even countries that successfully managed to ward off the early waves of the virus, through public health measures alone, are now in the midst of devastating outbreaks.
Ghebreyesus emphasized that for health workers that have been in a titanic battle for more than a year and have record waiting lists to attend to, increased hospitalizations at any level is a challenge to them and their patients and to the overall capacity of the health system. He stressed that as countries lift public health and social measures, they must consider the impact on health workers and health systems.
He also voiced concern that particularly in low-income countries, exhausted health workers are battling to save lives in the midst of shortages of personal protective equipment, oxygen, and treatments. Ghebreyesus underlined that while vaccines have never been the way out of this crisis on their own, this current wave is demonstrating again just what a powerful tool they are to battle back against this virus.
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Voicing concern that the global gap in vaccine supply is hugely uneven and inequitable, he said some countries and regions are actually ordering millions of booster doses before other countries have had supplies to vaccinate their health workers and most vulnerable. I ask you, who would put firefighters on the frontline without protection? Who are the most vulnerable to the flames of this pandemic? The health workers on the frontlines, older persons, and the vulnerable, he said.
Reiterating that vaccination offers long-lasting immunity against severe and deadly Covid-19, the WHO chief said the priority now must be to vaccinate those who have received no doses and protection. Instead of Moderna and Pfizer prioritizing the supply of vaccines as boosters to countries whose populations have relatively high coverage, we need them to go all out to channel supply to COVAX, the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, and low- and low-middle income countries, which have very low vaccine coverage, he said.
While tens of millions of vaccine dose donations are starting to come through, he said there is a need for more and faster. We need an all-out, no regrets, accelerated building up of new vaccine manufacturing hubs. For that to happen quicker, pharmaceutical companies must share their licenses, know-how, and technology, he said.
AstraZeneca has led on licensing their vaccines around the world to increase vaccine capacity quickly. As well as Europe, India and the Republic of Korea, I am pleased to announce two more manufacturing sites, in Japan and Australia, which have now received a WHO Emergency Use Listing, bringing AstraZeneca’s EUL’s to five, he said adding that this gives the green light for COVAX to buy vaccines from these additional facilities, and enables countries to expedite their own regulatory approval to import and roll out vaccines.
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The Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, is among the key suppliers of AstraZeneca doses to the COVAX facility. “We need other manufacturers to follow this example. Thousands of people are still dying every day and that deserves urgent action…No more talk about vaccinating low-income countries in 2023, 2024. This is no time for a lull, we want to see progress being built on and a surge of action to scale up the supply and sharing of lifesaving health tools.”
It is against this backdrop that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s daily warnings and appeals to increase the availability of vaccines should be taken seriously.
India has been able to vaccinate not more than 40 crores out of its 140 crores population. The vaccination task is humungous and should not be trifled with.
Curated by Leen Hamade