Director Randeep Guleria.. Image Source: IANS News

New Delhi, Nov 11 : The winter season amid the Covid-19 pandemic will be very challenging, but a vaccine will be there sometime early next year, hopefully in February-March, and then, there have some degree of normalcy, said AIIMS Director Randeep Guleria in an interview to IANS.

However, he underlined the importance of "aggressive" Covid-appropriate behaviour in tackling the spread.

Following are excerpts of the interview: Q: From 90,000 cases a day, the number has decreased to 45,000 a day, barring few cities where cases are increasing rapidly? Do you think India will cross the peak by this year-end and cases begin to decline across the nation?
A: The challenging time will be next three months which is during the winter months... once we cross that then hopefully, we have two things. One, we have large number of individuals who have recovered and chances of them spreading infection will come down, so the number of cases should come down. Secondly, we should also be having a vaccine, which will be available by that time so by early next year we should have some degree of normalcy, I am hopeful of that by February-March.

Q: Is there any specific number on peak associated with this viral infection, for example after the fourth peak, cases will finally begin to decline and there won't be any extraordinary surge in cases? A: So, for India, it is lot of a differential things, if we look at the country as a whole or different region. Different regions in India have behaved differently because increase in number of cases have occurred in different time as the pandemic has progressed.

In beginning, we have had a huge peak in large cities, as cases came from outside, and Mumbai and Delhi saw a peak, then the cases came down. We also saw that in the south. We will have peaks and drops. We have crossed one peak and the number of cases has come down. How do we sustain this is a big challenge, as you see in Europe and it has come down, but there has been another peak there. There also been a decrease in number of cases in the US, which have again gone up having more than 1 lakh cases a day. Challenge is to prevent these peaks from happening and blunt them as much as possible.

Most pandemics in the past have had about three to four peaks, after which, let us say good amount of herd immunity or vaccine is available. In the 1918 pandemic, there were three major peaks: the first peak in summer months, a larger peak in winters and there was smaller peak in February and March, after which the pandemic became less, but it took quite some time.

The challenge is that how do we maintain Covid-19 appropriate behaviour so that we do not have another peak... look at countries like Vietnam, Taiwan and Cambodia. The number of cases has not increased. They had their peak and they were able to sustain the decline in the number of cases.

In India, there are certain cities like Delhi where there has been increase in number of cases which is directly linked to crowding, lack of Covid-19 appropriate behaviour and of course other factors like air pollution and fall in temperatures.

But, I think it is very important for us to understand that if we want to keep the cases down and say we have crossed the peak, then we have to have good aggressive behaviour, we have to be disciplined, otherwise we have a resurgence of cases during the winter months.

Q: Is there inadvertent under-reporting of deaths and Covid-19 cases in India? Are we doing enough testing? A: Our testing has been very focused. Testing we are doing has gone up dramatically, we have done 14 lakh tests in a day now. The testing is going up every day and the number of testing we are doing is significant. The mortality is being reported, I do not think death rate is not hidden in any manner. We have reasonably good information as far as mortality and cases are concerned. We need to augment testing as much as we can, especially when we start to look at small towns and rural India.

(Sumit Saxena can be contacted at sumit.s@ians.in)

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