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The Taste with Vir Sanghvi: Avoiding the Third Wave

In this week's The Taste, "This month’s Covid round-up: protect our doctors, open our parks, wear the masks and decrease the vaccine gap."
By Vir Sanghvi, Delhi
UPDATED ON JUN 18, 2021 06:16 PM IST
A medical worker inoculates a woman with a dose of the Covaxin vaccine against Covid-19 coronavirus at a vaccination camp held in Amritsar on June 18, 2021. (AFP)

On Friday, the Delhi High Court (HC) warned that we were speeding towards a third wave of Covid-19 because of the irresponsibility demonstrated by many of us after most lockdown restrictions were lifted.

The HC was perturbed after seeing large crowds at Delhi markets, with no thought to social distancing and either a complete disregard for masking protocols (you are not supposed to wear the mask below your nose as so many of us do) or the gleeful abandonment of masks, altogether.

No sensible person can disagree with the HC. And while it would be foolish to deny that government negligence and incompetence contributed to the second wave, if a third wave does arrive in the autumn/winter, as some experts are predicting, this will be largely our own fault.

What people don’t seem to understand is that it is not just their own lives at risk. If somebody wanted to kill himself by not wearing a mask, you could have once argued that it was his business. Except that in a pandemic, it does not work that way. Everyone who is infected will spread the infection to other people. So, you can’t take an individualistic approach to any epidemic or pandemic. All our lives are at stake. And we are in this together.

Nor should we take comfort in the fact that the second wave seems to be ending. (The positivity rate in Delhi is down to 0.20%). We made that mistake after the first wave, forgetting that all viruses mutate. When the Delta variant appeared, nobody was prepared for it. Even government health authorities took far too long to admit that a dangerous, more transmissible new variant was causing a second round of inflections.

So there is no telling if a third variant will emerge and cut a swathe through our country just as the Delta variant has. Until at least 70% of us are vaccinated (and that is going to take a very, very long time) we cannot afford to let our guards down even slightly.

On the plus side, there is good news on the vaccine front. More vaccines are on their way and the current drive has picked up. The increased supply may lead the government to shorten the gap between the two doses of Covishield. Research abroad suggests that the first jab provides only around 33% protection against serious illness caused by the Delta variant. And while everyone is broadly agreed that a long gap between the two doses gives you more protection (though it is not clear how much more), this is no good if you are already dead. Every one of us knows people who have got Covid in the gap between the two doses. And some people have had serious illness, which we were once told was impossible, in that gap period.

Moreover, how do you define “serious illness”? We don’t know enough about the long-term effects of Covid and the research that is coming out now suggests that even a so-called mild case can cause lasting damage to your body, including your brain.

Presumably, once it has enough vaccines, the government will abandon the long gap between the two doses, citing ‘new research’.

The government also needs to do something about Covaxin, the so-called atmanirbhar vaccine. It seems clear to us in India that it works, but the rest of the world is not so sure. Very few countries accept that it is efficacious (compared to say, Pfizer or AstraZeneca).

This will cause problems for Indians as we travel abroad. Many countries will insist on vaccine certificates. And they will not treat one issued on the basis of Covaxin shots as valid.

The government keeps telling us that Covaxin will soon be accepted all the world. But it does not tell us when.

Meanwhile, two other causes for concern. The first and most serious one is the tendency of people to physically assault doctors and medical staff. We read about these cases but the impact it has on medical students and doctors was driven home to me when Ritisha Sarkar, the daughter of a former colleague, wrote to me: “I am a medical student and am scared for my future as a doctor in this country. I am scared for my seniors who are interns and for each and every member of our medical community.”

Ritisha asked if I would write about it, “for the sake of every doctor who has ever treated you or your family. Doctors are getting brutally beaten and even killed.”

In my opinion, anyone who assaults a frontline medical worker is a true enemy of the community. We should take the strongest possible action against such people. Every attack on a doctor or a medical worker during a pandemic shames us as a nation.

One other concern. The guidelines issued by such state governments as the one in Delhi make little sense to me. I could understand why a state government would want to open up markets; shop keepers are an important constituency.

But why not open up parks? All research now says that as long as you take basic precautions, the chances of getting Covid in a park are negligible. So how does it make sense to allow you to take your child to Pizza Hut but not to a garden?

Is it because trees and bushes can’t vote?

Also, the restriction against serving liquor at restaurants is crazy. I can understand the objection to crowded bars. But how does a glass of beer with lunch increase your chances of getting Covid? If you are going to let people eat at restaurants anyway, then why stop them from drinking?

I hope that next week’s guidelines will remove these restrictions.

But governments move in mysterious ways. And as long as they don’t kill us, this time around, I guess we should just be grateful.

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