With the discovery of a new coronavirus variety in South Africa, scientists and health professionals in India have warned that additional waves of infection are expected and that unless action is taken swiftly and effectively, the country may face repeat waves.

In comparison to two years ago, India today has superior tools, according to Vinod Scaria, a scientist at the CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB). To be better prepared, he argued, the country needed to increase its vaccination push, public health measures, health infrastructure, and genomic surveillance.

He highlighted that time was valuable and that India had the best instruments available, including vaccines and public health measures such as masks, distance, and ventilation. Unfortunately, there existed a global vaccine imbalance.

“We must use our limited time to vaccinate all eligible persons with at least two doses.” Closing the gap between the first and the second dosage in the 45+ age group could provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reduce COVID-19 mortality, he said.

Dr. Scaria went on to say that boosters would be useless if the majority of the world had not received even one dose.

Experts say the new South African variety is significant because it contains a high number of mutations, including roughly 32 in the spike protein, some of which have been linked to immune escape and increased transmissibility independently.

While the addictive behaviors of such mutations cannot be accurately predicted, they highlighted that this can lead to new research areas.

He added the recent development is particularly alarming for a densely populated country like India, where transmission among the susceptible people can occur at a faster rate.

Though public health systems are prepared to deal with the possibility of a third wave, Viswesvaran Balasubramanian, consultant, interventional pulmonology and sleep medicine, Yashoda Hospitals, Hyderabad, said viral variants with high transmissibility could put a huge strain on the existing healthcare infrastructure, given India’s population.

“Moreover, with many children remaining unvaccinated and many adults yet to receive the second dose of vaccination, a mutant variation at this time could result in rapid transmission and enhanced disease severity in these vulnerable populations,” he warned.

Doctors also say that because mutations are unavoidable, long-term planning and strategic planning to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic are critical.

“At an individual level, pandemic norms like avoiding or limiting social gatherings, wearing masks in public spaces and even indoors in houses with susceptible people, and adhering to hand sanitization measures should be observed,” Dr. Balasubramanian added.

According to Ankita Baidya of HCMCT Manipal Hospitals’ infectious diseases department, India has been successful in administering more than 100 crore vaccinated doses, which is a great achievement in terms of the huge population, but most of these are single doses and not the complete two doses of vaccination, which can be effective in fighting the new strain if it gets into India.

Dr. Baidya went on to say that viruses tend to change and that the only way to combat and treat them was to improve and prepare the healthcare system.

“As part of our lifestyle, we must closely observe infection control rules and COVID-19 acceptable behavior,” he said.

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