Read it right: Survey indicating extent of antibody prevalence nationally cannot be the sole guide to public policy

The fourth national sero survey indicating that two-thirds of the country could have developed antibodies against Covid should be treated as a warning, as ICMR chief Balram Bhargava said, that nearly 40 crore Indians are still to contract the infection. There is no room for complacency among citizens or authorities, especially after horrors of the second wave. The infamous example of Delhi, which recorded 50% seroprevalence in January and was yet laid low in April, bears remembering. Findings of 68% seroprevalence in this round, at best, buy some time to speed up vaccination before current immunity levels dip.

August, when Dr Bhargava had claimed readiness to deliver 1 crore jabs daily, is just days away. Yet the average daily vaccination numbers aren’t even touching 50 lakh. Any slow-go based on the sero survey would be dangerous – 400 persons in only 70 districts across 21 states were sampled. Also, the better off classes who were severely hit by the second wave, often provide too few samples. Surveys cannot capture granular phenomena in a vast country like India. Bhargava has also expressly warned against state governments and districts extrapolating this data to suit their purposes.

States should be conducting their own extensive sero surveys, in conjunction with greater targeted testing and surveillance of severe acute respiratory illness, to gather intelligence on a potential third wave. A number of districts in Kerala, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Northeast are recording high test positivity rates, bucking the national trend.

Kerala is a good example. Its high second wave plateau, after a long first wave plateau that lasted five months, has stumped the state government. With the state lockdown nearing three months, citizens are predictably restless. Easing restrictions for Eid citing trade losses has irked the Supreme Court and medical community. Earlier, the Sabarimala temple was opened with restrictions on entry. Courts and doctors are right: Every state should restrict all kinds of gatherings now and in the foreseeable future. With Kerala’s numbers too high for comfort and the state festival Onam that stoked its first wave just weeks away, sound public policy mustn’t yield ground to populist temptations.


This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.



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