The Covid-19 third wave: How to control it and the way forward

While India prepares for new health concerns, a number of other things are putting a damper on the process.

The entire burden of stopping Covid and its variants cannot be placed on the shoulders of the government. (Representational image: PTI)

By Dr. Ankit Gupta,

As the pandemic enters its third year, the next wave of Covid 19 could strike us at any time next year. Given the high transmissibility of Omicron, the country has already enhanced its efforts to prevent its spread. As we get into 2022, it’s critical to recognise the challenges and take the necessary steps to mitigate them. The entire burden of stopping Covid and its variants cannot be placed on the shoulders of the government. It is critical that the general public joins the government’s efforts to eradicate the coronavirus.

The Challenges

While India prepares for new health concerns, a number of other things are putting a damper on the process. According to data from the Institute of Health Metrics, mask usage in India has dropped below 60%. This negligence could end up costing us a lot more in the future. According to a report commissioned by the NITI Aayog, government hospitals are still unprepared to manage emergency care. Only 3-5% of beds in district hospitals across India are set aside for emergency care. In addition, only 3% of government hospitals have the qualified paramedics required to assist ambulance services. Despite high patient loads reported to district hospitals and emergency departments, nearly 94% of hospitals lacked point-of-care labs (for simple diagnostics), 76 percent lacked separate ambulance access, and 68 percent lacked proper emergency department spacing. The research also noted that in proportion to patient numbers, most hospitals lacked general doctors, specialists, and nursing personnel dedicated to emergency departments. If the country does not want a repeat of Covid 2.0, all of these gaps must be filled as quickly as possible.

Vaccination is the key

It is estimated that the third wave may see an unprecedented 6 lakh Covid-19 cases every day, over 50% more than the second wave. To be prepared for any situation, it is critical that the entire adult population is vaccinated with both doses as soon as possible. Currently, 50 percent of the adult population in India has been vaccinated with both doses. In addition, around 85% of the adult population has received at least one dose. This indicates that we’re on the right track. We will soon be able to vaccinate the entire adult population, thanks to a stronger effort from both the central and state governments. The other good news is that vaccine hesitancy has decreased. With the announcement of Covid vaccines for children aged 15 to 18 years old, as well as booster doses for people over the age of 60, India is fully prepared to face any challenges in 2022. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also announced the world’s first DNA vaccine, a three-dose nasal vaccine that will be soon available for India’s Covid-19 vaccination campaign. This will bolster our efforts to combat Omicron and the third wave.

Infrastructure expansion

As we get into 2022, both public and private hospitals need to increase their bed capacity and oxygen plants. We should prepare early so that when a third wave strikes, lack of medical oxygen and medicines should not be an issue. In addition, the government has allocated Rs 23,123 crore to combat the third wave. This money will be used to improve the country’s medical infrastructure.

The government has asked the entire healthcare industry to begin significant preparations. For example, the Delhi Drugs Control Department has written to the Drug Manufacturers’ Association and pharmacists to request that important Covid-19 drugs, particularly those used to treat mucormycosis (black fungus) and Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in children, be kept in reserve. In addition, major pharmaceutical companies have been instructed to keep a 30-day buffer inventory on hand.

On their end, state governments are also prepping up for the third wave. Kerala, for example, is trying to increase oxygen supplies in villages. It is expanding paediatric facilities and providing doctors with specialised training. The state has also increased the storage capacity of oxygen in major hospitals. Rajasthan has also placed 50,000 oxygen concentrator orders.

To strengthen the National Capital’s fight against the pandemic, the Delhi government has approved a budget of Rs 1,544 crore. The government intends to spend this massive sum on both short- and long-term projects. Out of this, Rs 415 crore will be used to improve laboratories and another Rs 445 crore to purchase supplies. The government will also spend Rs 280 crore to improve healthcare facilities and Rs 125 crore to run Covid Care Centre.

The state government of Maharashtra is focusing on improving the provision of oxygen and medicines for children. District administrations have been told to expect 1.5 times the caseload during the third wave. Other states are aggressively expanding their healthcare infrastructure as well.

The Way Forward

As we move on in the year 2022, India will need to increase its use of rapid antigen tests in addition to RTPCR tests. This will allow for the identification of more positive cases at a lower cost, as well as better handling of the third wave. To prepare for more patients, both government and private hospitals’ health infrastructure must be constantly updated. Covid hospitals, whether government or private, should establish Covid Care Centres, where less severe cases are kept. Staff should be trained in carrying out triage. The least severe cases should be sent back home for further management. The less severe and moderate cases should be managed in Covid Care Centres where oxygen support is available and only the severe cases should be admitted to the ICU with ventilator support. In doing so, we can ensure that at the peak of the third wave, the healthcare system is not overwhelmed.To stay safe, people should continue wearing masks, avoid crowded places, and adhere to all social distancing norms. All guidelines issued by the Government of India must be followed by the general public. With the combined efforts of the government and the general public, Omicron can be defeated and the third wave can be tamed.

(The author is Managing Director, Park Group of Hospitals. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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