It is vital that a very sensitive and responsive surveillance system is put in place to track COVID-19 transmission in the community, followed up by immediate and appropriate containment measures as soon as evidence of spread surfaces.
If this is not done with diligence, COVID-19 could soon become endemic in the country, Raman Gangakhedkar, former Head of Epidemiology, Indian Council of Medical Research , has warned.
He was speaking here on Pandemic Response at the ongoing international health webinar being organised by the Department of Health
However, the bigger challenge would be the sustenance of COVID-appropriate behaviour in the community. The use of mask has declined significantly, while the mobility has gone up to near normal, he pointed out.
Dr. Gangakhedkar said that de-centralised approaches are going to be quite critical in COVID containment and reducing disease transmission because there are significant differences in the levels of outbreaks in different geographic areas.
Also, the size of social networks, adherence to COVID protocols and quality of implementation strategies are likely to be different.
The national epidemic curve masks the heterogeneity of transmission dynamics in the country and while the curve seems to have come down, resurgence of cases are now being witnessed in some districts in Maharashtra and in Kerala.
Kerala’s first wave of the epidemic has been prolonged because of the strong containment measures and better adherence to public health protocols. However, as the State struggles to contain the resurgence of COVID-19, the emergence of new virus variants, which have more infective as well as immune escape potential are going to pose serious challenges, Dr. Gangakhedkar said.
SARS CoV 2 tends to mutate slowly in comparison to HIV and Influenza viruses. However, immune escape variants seem to be emerging due to the repeated and indiscriminate use of convalescent plasma and because of the prolonged COVID infection among people who are immuno-compromised (survival of the virus might be longer in these patients, giving more opportunities for it to mutate)
It is essential to curb the use of convalescent plasma therapy and to reduce the transmission or the number of cases to stop the emergence of virus variants, Dr. Gangakhedkar said.
Vaccine acceptance among the public should be improved with appropriate communication strategies because rapid vaccination is one way one to break disease transmission in the community and to reduce the chances of virus variants, he added.