With a spike in cases after months of decline, India must speed up vaccination coverage
The steady drop in cases has been recorded since mid-September last year despite the much-feared festival season, winter, large gatherings, almost absent restrictions in the free movement of people across States and national borders, and not-so-good adherence to mask wearing. Though the third countrywide sero survey conducted by the ICMR between December 17, 2020 and January 8, 2021 found that only 21.5% (around 225 million people) of India have been exposed to the virus — and hence, a large population is still vulnerable to infection — no spike was seen till a few days ago. No scientific explanation has been found to demystify this phenomenon; lack of targeted testing and/or integrity in reporting could be the only plausible reasons. But the recent spike, either due to the infection of people who are virus-naive, or reinfection, raises the possibility of the spread of any of the three variants first found in other countries or the emergence of a new variant here in India. This highlights the importance of undertaking large-scale sequencing of the SARS-CoV-2 genome from infected people to trace and track the emergence and spread of any variants. While a few institutions in India have been sequencing the genome, the scale is nowhere near what is required. It is also time to speed up vaccination coverage to protect a large population of vulnerable people and increase mask wearing. There is no room for complacency.
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