Public health responses to Covid are more sophisticated, but research and data gaps remain

On December 24, India recorded 7,189 new Covid cases and the daily test positivity rate was 0.65%. A month later, the daily caseload increased about 36 times to about 2.55 lakh with a positivity rate of 15.52%. It’s a wave reminiscent of last summer’s devastating second wave, but without similar consequences. Nor has India’s medical infrastructure been overwhelmed and economic activity has not been so badly disrupted. Of course, the current wave is not over. However, evidence from the past four weeks shows that India has assimilated the lessons of the first two waves and offered more sophisticated responses.

The main credit for this goes to state governments who have tailored responses to the incidence of infections in their jurisdictions. The first wave taught us that infection peaks vary from region to region, which means that a homogeneous national response comes at an unjustified economic cost. In the second wave, governments at both levels were caught napping. On this occasion, two aspects of the response stand out. Mobility restrictions have been calibrated to limit economic damage by linking them to measures such as vacant Covid beds. This kind of adaptation is crucial as Covid shows signs of being endemic.

The other highlight is that the impact of school closures has not been ignored. Already, states like Maharashtra and West Bengal have announced the resumption of in-person classes. The recovery is happening in phases, but the message is that governments are aware of the long-term consequences of prolonged closures of in-person classes. A more refined collective approach relies on the fact that around 60% of the adult population had already been fully vaccinated before the current surge, which reduced the potential stress on health infrastructure. However, there remain areas of persistent laxity in the response to the pandemic. In national research and data collection, things need to be improved.

The genome sequencing of the samples is inadequate. The importance of an accurate measurement of Omicron’s contribution to current thrust cannot be overstated. Genome sequencing also provides early evidence of dangerous mutations in the pathogen. The sketchy data on breakthrough infections embody a dominant weakness. The availability of more granular data will help states further refine their responses. India can afford to rely more on its own research, but it needs better coordination from the Indian government. In the areas of vaccines and catching the spread of infection, the Indian government must take the lead in raising standards.


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


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