Talking about the large number of cases where people suffered from breathlessness, Dr Varghese said that since the number of cases had been very high, the subset of people suffering from oxygen shortage was also higher, as had been expected.
Coronavirus third wave: The second wave of the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc in India, taking the number of daily cases and deaths to an unprecedented high during April-end and May. During this, the country also saw an oxygen crisis and came face to face with the inadequacy of health infrastructure. Now, with warnings of the third wave cropping up from around the world, veteran medical practitioner Dr Mathew Varghese spoke to The Indian Express about the lessons learnt from the second wave.
Talking about the large number of cases where people suffered from breathlessness, Dr Varghese said that since the number of cases had been very high, the subset of people suffering from oxygen shortage was also higher, as had been expected. There were also delays caused by the immense pressure on medical infrastructure and testing facilities when the cases were at their peak, he added. He also said that because of this, the natural selection bias was towards the cases where oxygenation was needed, adding that to accurately assess the percentage of cases where breathlessness was experienced as compared to the first wave, population-based house-to-house surveys would have had to be conducted. He added that in any case, the baseline was that the virus had a significant impact on the lungs of the patient and that was the number one problem that the medical practitioners needed to address.
Dr Varghese also said that in the second wave, most symptoms were getting fast forward, meaning that the virus in this wave was far more effective, much more contagious and aggressive.
He also said that he believed keeping people at home on the basis of oxygen count or saturation was not the best solution, because for that, people would need to either be trained in oxygen count or be trained to read the digital sensor. Moreover, asking people to go to hospitals after their saturation dropped to 92% was not a scientific enough decision, he said, because he felt that by that time the lungs have already been compromised by 50% to 67% and hospitalisation becomes necessary.
Talking about the preparation for the third wave, he said that arrangements would have to be made to ensure that supply chain capacity is enough to be able to cater for cases at a magnitude even higher than what we witnessed during the second wave. He said that while he believed that the magnitude would not be so high, India would still need to be prepared.
He believed that there was also a need to develop a real-time data capturing system that would be dynamic, so that the medical community from over the country would be able to help areas where the cases were overwhelming.
Talking about the third wave, he said that in his view, a next wave should be reasonably manageable considering the fact that the country has gone through two waves and is also in the middle of a massive vaccination drive, except for a “devilish” strain developing which can be foreseen at this stage. He added that if at all a wave is coming he does not think it would in the near future anyway. This, he said, was because most of the people in the second wave are likely to have gotten in contact with the virus and developed adequate immunity against the virus for the next five to six months. He warned against this being the reason behind people becoming complacent, however, because even a vaccine could not ensure 100% protection against coronavirus.
He also said that the notion that children would be impacted in the third wave is absolutely a shot in the dark, as there is no evidence or sign at present that children would be affected. Adding that the second wave also saw a much higher number of children getting infected as compared to the previous wave, he said that since the overall numbers were also high, there was a need to look at the entire data to come to a conclusion about whether more children were infected in this wave or not. He remained skeptical of the prediction of children being affected, adding that the community was unable to predict the magnitude of the second wave, and that there was no scientific basis for the prediction of the third wave.