BENGALURU: There is a clear trend of increasing Covid effective reproductive number, which is around 0.85 now. The moment it touches 1, we will see an outbreak, similar or worse than the previous wave, warned Dr Giridhara Babu, renowned epidemiologist, and Member, Technical Advisory Committee, during an interview with The New Indian Express.
Karnataka is seeing an increase in the number of Covid cases. Does this warn of a third wave?
When you examine the trend of infection, there are several ways of assessing it. If you examine the effective reproduction number — which was at rock bottom around June 20 — has started increasing. It is around 0.85 now. The moment it touches 1 — which can happen very soon — an outbreak very similar to the second wave can occur. Whether this will be large enough and will have similar casualties will depend on the action we take. It is not so much about the virus, than about what we do now to contain it.
Does the outbreak occur only because of an increase in cases in neighbouring states or the spike within the State?
A combination of several factors leads to an outbreak: Seroprevalance, vaccination coverage and covid-appropriate behaviour. Kerala is not alone in the risk of spreading infection to Karnataka. It can come from anywhere and any part of the world. Once a virus travels to Karnataka, these three factors are important. Many areas in Karnataka have low seroprevalence, which can see a sudden spurt. Even in Bengaluru, there might be pockets with low seroprevalence. Most parts of northern, central and coastal Karnataka will see a high number of cases. Instead of tailor-made interventions, we can have uniform regulations.
Proportion of inoculated population is also an important determinant in terms of infections, hospitalisations and how many might face risk of death.
Third, instead of state-specific intervention policies, there should be uniform regulations, preventing congregation of crowds and ensuring compliance in CAB, especially masking and social distancing/
Also do more testing, identify clusters as soon as infections start spreading and contain the transmission.
What is the status of vaccination in Karnataka?
Many states, including Karnataka, do not have adequate supplies of vaccines. While waiting, we have to micro-plan. We should map all the eligible people, register them on CoWin, and plan when and where they will go to take the vaccine once it’s available. Karnataka has done this during elections, so why not for the vaccination?
There is a lot of discussion happening around vaccine hesitancy? What's your take on this.
Vacine hesitancy is a convenient term which is collectively used for several failures like lack of awareness, lack of micro planning, lack of mobilisation. Very small number of people exist who really do not want to get vaccinated because of fear or some other reason. It is a very western phenomenon and in India very few people arescared due to myths or fake news on vaccines. To overcome this UNICEF, government and WHO is holding mobilisation campaigns.
Seroprevalence survey report submitted to ICMR shows nearly 68 per cent of seropositivity in the State…
I have been part of both national and state serosurveys. Taking 68 per cent as an average based on the results from two districts for the entire State may not be the appropriate thing to do. We have seen great heterogeneity in the way districts are getting infected. In the days to come, I am sure there will be areas with low seroprevalence of less than 30-40 per cent. These are the areas which will see the maximum number of cases.
What are the immediate measures the government needs to take?
The battle against Covid is not like an election where after one event, you get prepared for the next. It’s a process and we need a perpetual state of preparedness. That comes from strong surveillance. Karnataka is among states with a good testing record, but still the numbers are not enough. More than 50 per cent testing occurs in Bengaluru and district headquarters. But the focus should be on rural areas which have low seroprevalence.
Political leaders and role models like movie actors, religious leaders should be socially conscious anf follow Covid appropriate behaviou. Crowding should be avoided at all costs while masking and maintaining social distancing is very important.