Express News Service

NEW DELHI: A warning by some experts on a probable nationwide third Covid-19 wave particularly bad for children may have had the Union and state governments scampering to prepare for the worst but the house is divided on the possibility.

The hypothesis that the impending third wave of the pandemic may mainly target children, who are not eligible for Covid-19 vaccination yet, was floated by various healthcare experts, including noted cardiologist Devi Shetty.

More recently, an expert panel, set up by the National Institute of Disaster Management under the Ministry of Home Affairs, predicted a third wave hitting the country anytime between September and October while suggesting the need to significantly ramp up the pace of vaccination.

The report by the committee said that children will be at similar risk as adults since paediatric facilities, doctors and equipment like ventilators and ambulances are nowhere close to what may be required in case a large number of them become infected.

The assessment submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office observed that as the percentage of fully vaccinated people in the country is very low, the pace of vaccination needs to be ramped up failing which India could witness up to six lakh cases per day in the next wave.

Two of India’s foremost experts however strongly differed in their assessments.

“I am sceptical about there being a big third wave simply because the sero-surveillance shows about two-thirds of the people in India are already exposed to the virus. There will be localised outbreaks in places with lower exposure as we are seeing in Kerala,” said virologist Shahid Jameel.

He added that the timing and magnitude of the third wave will depend upon how well we continue to follow Covid protocols, how fast the government is able to vaccinate the population at risk and whether the virus will mutate into a variant that effectively escapes pre-existing immunity.

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“While the third is a random process, it is facilitated by opportunities given to the virus if the first two factors are not followed,” said Jameel, adding that India needs to be very careful during the Dussehra-Diwali festivities when a lot of people come together.

K Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India and member of the national Covid-19 task force, too said that whether, when and how severely a third wave will emerge in India is subject to many variable factors.

“They are related to the number of susceptible persons in different parts of the country, how many of those persons will expose themselves to the virus by not following  Covid appropriate behaviour, how many super-spreader gatherings the authorities fail to prevent, how many of those who are infected become symptomatic and are properly tested and isolated, how contacts too quarantine themselves and whether new variants will enter the country from outside or will emerge from within the country,” he said.

Reddy added that the number of susceptible persons will vary across the country, depending on how many persons have been already infected or vaccinated.

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“With travel having resumed, even these numbers will change as people enter or exit a location. In such a complex adaptive system, linear models will not work well. Instead of speculative debates, we should focus our collective will and energy on controlling each of the factors that can lead to a third wave. If we do so, the third wave will be a ripple rather than a tidal wave, whenever it comes,” he stressed.