The result of the fourth serological survey by the Indian Council of Medical Research is the best piece of news since March 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic began to take a heavy toll on the health and livelihood of its citizens. That nearly 68% of the population has antibodies means a large section is protected against the virus. But as ICMR chief Balram Bhargava warned, it is no cause for celebration and a reason to throw caution to the wind. There are three reasons why there is a need for continued vigilance.
Firstly, about 40 crore people are still vulnerable and the spatial distribution of the antibodies may not be even across the country, making a third wave a real possibility still. Secondly, the antibodies offer only temporary protection, perhaps for only a few months. A study conducted by Italy’s Padua University and Imperial College, London, in an entire Italian village showed that antibodies are present at least for nine months after infection but we still do not how long they last. Thirdly, the virus can mutate and strike anytime. The Delta variant is currently playing havoc in many countries, from Australia and Indonesia to the UK and the US, forcing authorities to lock down once again. The only way ahead is vigilance while reasonable restrictions must continue, such as a ban on large congregations.
In the meantime, the Union and state governments should face the pandemic unitedly instead of the current confrontationist rhetoric that characterises their relationship. On this aspect, the new Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya’s lengthy statement to the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, which was more of an accusation against the opposition and less of a concrete plan to tackle the vaccine shortage, did little to create the expectation that he would be any different from his predecessor. Harsh Vardhan was more often countering charges of failure in handling the pandemic rather than mitigating the vaccine crisis. Mandaviya should not walk down that path, especially as he is understood to have made a good beginning in his new role. It is believed he has shown more drive and is result-oriented. He needs to concentrate more on the job at hand instead of busying himself with mainly deflecting criticism.