Everyone I have talked to, has lost friends, class fellows and relatives in the second wave of COVID. This wave was devastating. Could we have avoided it by better prevention?
3.77 Lakh people have lost their lives and the reason for such high numbers is due to the nature of the corona family of viruses.
The corona virus is getting more and more infectious and deadly. COVID-19 itself has mutated from Alpha to Delta, Delta + and now Lamdba. This process is likely to continue, and the pandemic will last for the next 3- 4 years in different forms, despite vaccination.
We are still working on a lot of old knowledge, of droplets, while clearly it is now the aerosol that can go up to 10 metres and can stay suspended from a few minutes to three hours. Therefore, the six-feet prevention plan is no longer valid. Also, the virus can sit on surfaces for many days. So accordingly, the prevention strategy must change. Even the mask strategy needs to change.
Currently, most masks are made for droplets. But with aerosols, which is around 4.7 μm (one strand of hair is 25 μm), we need masks to have high filtration efficiency and a good fit, as the tiny particles can find their way around any gaps between mask and face. If we look at the history of the common flu and its vaccines, we find that the vaccine became popular in the 80s. In this case too, the virus keeps mutating and hence every October, a new vaccine is introduced that takes care of all the types of flu. Therefore, for prevention one needs a shot every year. The same is true for pneumonia shots.
The status on the current vaccine available is that these are all new. There is no real experience beyond Stage III testing. However, it is becoming clear that each of the vaccines will have its own efficacy. And will not prevent all variants.
Therefore, just like the current flu vaccine, we will probably need to have a booster shot every year. It is quite clear that we still need to take precautions as probably the Delta + variant is not covered by any vaccine. Hence, if a variant escapes from the effects of the vaccine, you still need to protect yourself. Based on a paper published by Gujarat Biotechnology, it is possible that Delta beats antibodies. This is based on people vaccinated in Gujarat being infected by Delta.
Every country that thought that they have overcome COVID, have had to handle the next wave. In the UK, the Delta variant is already spreading rapidly and delaying opening. Lambda is taking hold in South America.
We have also seen that 700 doctors lost their lives despite being given two shots of vaccines as they work in an environment where they could be exposed to high virus load (in ICU) and therefore, all variants of the virus.
We all know that all the vaccines have been developed at warp, never-done-before speed. But still that is the best option for prevention, and we need to believe in our scientists and go ahead and take the risk of taking the vaccine, allowing it to be injected in our body. As this is better than having debilitating COVID and its severe effects on the body and the risk of hospitalization and death.
PANDEMIC, ECONOMY AND PREVENTION
We all know the impact of the first wave of COVID on the economy- we had hugely negative growth. We still need to compile the impact of the second debilitating wave. However, the only solutions we have deployed are lockdowns and now vaccines. Vaccine will be a yearly affair. And we will need to keep our businesses and people safe during all the mutations of Corona. This is not going to happen only by vaccine but with adopting a new model for protection against aerosols and mutations. We just cannot go on doing lockdowns and unlockdowns. The supply chain cannot sustain this. And this will constantly create higher inflation.
What we need is technology. We need to look at technology to be used in all offices, homes, cinemas, restaurants, etc., where it can help prevent more infection. Also, we need to protect children and pregnant women. Just the way when pollution hit us, we started using air purifiers. With COVID mutating and the layer of aerosols, we need to use Virus Attenuators available in the market. The only proven technology is Shycocan, which has more than 15,000 installations and being used by major corporates. We also need to specially look at preventing COVID in key super spreader locations for a long time to come by using attenuators. These are-
- Vaccination centres, as these will be used for many years, for the whole year to give initial shots and then booster shots. Lancet report states that as vaccinations increased in India, the infections increased also. So, with crowded vaccination centres, we will spread Covid.
- Malls– so many people visit malls and a lot of them do not wear proper masks.
- Airports/ railway stations
- Ration/ PDS shops,
And wherever long queues are common and anticipated.
We need to recommend to all shops and establishments that they use technology to prevent COVID, besides vaccination yearly. If we want to open the travel and tourism industry, all hotels, restaurants need to use technology to attenuate Covid. We should also use this technology in all hospitals and protect our doctors and nurses.
Large number of IT company personnel are today working from home. This is suboptimal in a lot of cases, and it has been observed that there is a loss of productivity. A mixed model, where employees are provided technology at home and the rest in the office will work best as some jobs will permanently move to WFH.
Dr Guleria has predicted that the next wave will come around in October. The Prime Minister has also warned that we should be protecting ourselves against variants.
PANDEMIC AND EDUCATION
Based on the study done by Azim Premji foundation, the findings clearly show loss of learning due to no curricular learning and ‘forgetting’ what was learnt earlier.
Some findings show-
– 92% of children have lost one language ability
– 82% of children lost at least one specific mathematical ability
We need to open schools and create a bubble in each classroom using technology. We also need to create a new strategy to get children to schools using bubbles. This can be created by using Shycocan or equivalent technology.
VACCINATION AND COMMUNICATION
A recent dipstick done in some parts of the country, shows serious issues with vaccine hesitancy. The key findings are –
1. Vaccination can lead to extreme sickness and death
2. Tribals believe that COVID is the problem of the elite – it will not happen to us.
3. Minority community believe it is a strategy to control population as it leads to infertility and impotency
4. ‘Surakshit hai!’ has had the opposite effect.
So, what is needed is:
1. A bottom-up approach towards community level mobilization
2. Deep involvement of Panchayats and local leaders.
3. Simple communication materials and use of mikes on local cabs on vaccination
And a social and behavioural change communication program where we talk of permanent change towards behaviour. We need to move towards what the Japanese and South Korean do when they have a cough or cold. They always wear a mask.
Finally, let us not walk into the next wave on just one leg – vaccination. Everyone only talks about vaccination. We should add technology, using virus attenuators, to prevent COVID. This is the second leg that will help us battle the COVID whole lot better and avoid unnecessary deaths in the population and among our frontline workers.
The author is Chair, FICCI Start-up Committee & Founder HCL