India needs to be prepared to fight Covid for years to come

New Delhi: A COVID-19 patient waits to be allocated a bed at LNJP Hospital, amid shortage of beds and medical oxygen, as coronavirus cases surge in record numbers across the country, in New Delhi, Thursday, April 22, 2021. (PTI Photo)

New Delhi: A COVID-19 patient waits to be allocated a bed at LNJP Hospital, amid shortage of beds and medical oxygen, as coronavirus cases surge in record numbers across the country, in New Delhi, Thursday, April 22, 2021. (PTI Photo)

New Delhi, April 22 (IANS) As India faces the daunting task to make life-saving oxygen cylinders and key Covid drugs available amid the raging second wave of the pandemic, top health experts said on Thursday that the country needs to prepare itself for a long haul -- at least for the next 2-3 years -- unless oral drugs that can effectively kill the virus are available over the counter.

The Centre and the state governments need a well chalked-out plan for the next couple of years -- unlike the current scary situation -- to deal with the pandemic, which will become like a seasonal flu, they said.

"The future remains a mystery. Covid may continue for long if the strains remain infectious, and hit us hard a multiple times in the years to come, or it may disappear if the virus mutates to a very docile one similar to flu," Neha Gupta, infectious diseases specialist at the Medanta-The Medicity, told IANS.

"The ideal situation will be oral drugs which can effectively kill the virus and are safe to use on OPD basis. Till then, mask, hand hygiene and social distancing are of paramount importance for us and must remain a part of our lives for years to come," she elaborated.

Covid-19 may be seasonal like flu, according to researchers from the University of Illinois, Chicago.

"One conclusion is that the disease may be seasonal, like the flu. This is very relevant to what we should expect from now on after the vaccine controls these first waves of Covid-19," said Gustavo Caetano-Anolles in a paper published in the journal 'Evolutionary Bioinformatics'.

While temperature and latitude are unmistakably correlated with Covid-19 cases, researchers said that climate is only one factor driving seasonal Covid-19 incidence worldwide - something that we are currently witnessing in India.

According to V. Ramana Prasad, senior pulmonologist at the KIMS Hospital in Hyderababd, Covid is now going to be there in the community forever, like any other communicable disease.

"The only option for any country is to vaccinate majority of its people so that the disease severity comes down both in terms of morbidity and mortality. After two-three years, it may become endemic and we may see sporadic spurt of Covid cases, like Swine Flu," Prasad told IANS.

The virus is changing at its own pace, and mutations are affected by factors other than temperature or latitude.

"We don't know exactly what these factors are, but we can now say that seasonal effects are independent of the genetic makeup of the virus," said Caetano-Anolles.

India is now facing more lethal variants, even a triple-mutant one.

The B1617 variant, first detected in Maharashtra, contains mutations from two separate virus variants -- E484Q and L452R. The third mutation evolved from the double mutation where three different Covid strains combined to form a new variant.

Two of these triple-mutant varieties have been found in samples collected from Maharashtra, Delhi, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh.

Pratibha Dogra, senior pulmonologist at the W Pratiksha Hospital in Gurugram, said that Covid has come back with a vengeance with the second wave.

"The healthcare system is overwhelmed. It is affecting all age groups and ironically males aged 20-50 are the worst affected. We are now dealing with RT-PCR negative but High Resolution CT (HRCT) chest positive Covid patients, which is the new cohort," Dogra informed.

Shubhranshu, senior pulmonologist at the Jaipur Chest Centre, said that it looks like it may take around one-two years for things to return to normal, provided we vaccinate more and more people and maintain social distancing.


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