Results of ICMR’s latest serological survey, the emergence of the new “U.K strain” of the Sars-Cov-2 virus in India, and moves to reopen schools and colleges in various parts of the country. SIDDHARTH GANGULY writes on where India stands with respect to the coronavirus today.
As many as 21.5% of Indians have been exposed to the Covid-19 virus, according to the latest serological survey conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). The survey, the third of its kind, was conducted from December 17th, 2020 to January 8th of this year.
In numerical terms, this figure translates to approximately 270 million people, vastly exceeding the official figure of around 10 million confirmed cases in the country.
According to Balram Bhargava, Director General of ICMR, the biggest takeaway from these results is that “a large proportion of the population remains vulnerable.” He made this statement at a press briefing on February 4th, cautioning against complacency in hygiene and social distancing protocols as the vaccine rollout continues.
A New Threat
The results of ICMR’s survey come against the backdrop of the emergence of the new, B 1.1.7 strain of the Sars-Cov-2 virus in India. Commonly known as the “U.K strain”, this mutation is considered to have an infection rate 1.55 times faster than that of the original virus, according to Danish scientists quoted in an article by Science Magazine.
Fears surrounding the new strain are also what prompted the harsh restrictions on movement in the U.K. around Christmas.
A preprint study published by Bharat Biotech and ICMR on January 26th found “similar efficacy” with “comparable neutralisation activity” against the U.K strain for Covaxin. However, on February 4th, Minister of State Health and Family Welfare, Ashwini Choubey noted in a written statement to the Rajya Sabha that there was “no data generated” for Covaxin and Covishield regarding their effectiveness against this new strain.
There have been 138 confirmed cases of infection with this new strain among Indians, according to a report published by The Hindu.
Proceed with Caution
While these developments reveal the threats the coronavirus still poses, reopening activities are already underway in some capacity. Following a discussion on February 1st, Maharashtra Higher and Technical Education Ministry announced that colleges in the state will be allowed to reopen at 50% capacity from February 15th.
This move comes despite the state seeing 2,736 of the nation’s 12,408 fresh daily cases. Moreover, other states such as West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, and Delhi have all either began the process of reopening schools or have intimated that such a move is coming in the near future.
With these uncertain factors still looming in the country, proceeding gradually and with caution when it comes to reopening is imperative.
(Siddharth Ganguly is a final year journalism student at Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication, Pune. These views are personal.)