After breaking global records in the month of April, India recorded its first dip in new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours. Talking about the severity of the second wave of the pandemic, Department of Science & Technology secretary Ashutosh Sharma in an exclusive interview to The Economic Times suggested that no input was alarming as far as science is concerned.
Dismissing election rallies and the Kumbh as the reason for a sudden surge in new Covid-19 cases, Sharma said “Election rallies and others may have contributed a small fraction but please look at the totality and context of the overall behaviour seen in the country, even among enlightened sections of people. It had become pervasive.”
Sharma added that the Covid-19 supermodel committee had raised an informal alert in March as the modelling and various other studies could not predict the scale, intensity and ferocity of the second wave and the new mutant of the Covid-19 virus. The numbers expected were to be less than a lakh per day during the second wave.
In a committee meeting with the Niti Aayog and Dr VK Paul in early April, the prediction was of India hitting the peak in the third-fourth week of April with an intensity of less than a lakh per day, Sharma informed.
Talking about the studies and predictions, Sharma added “Clearly what was predicted was far short of the reality, probably because inputs to the model changed — mutations in the virus which probably required less loading for the disease to take hold.”
On the science behind the virus
When asked if the messaging pertaining to the pandemic could have been better, Sharma insisted that there was no faulty messaging.
Explaining the science behind it, he added “Mathematical models also clearly and emphatically said that the behaviour of the virus was linked to that of the people. While scientific studies are still on, the strains look more infective. It is argued that the transmission is happening through aerosol. It is still under study how much viral load is leading to the onset of disease.
Comparatively, a small fraction is showing severe symptoms but it is not clear how that selection happens. Comorbidity and obesity are indicators. So was age but now it is shifting to a younger population that was not infected before — like fire to fuel. Several ongoing global studies and at our labs will give greater insight over time.”
Citing this as a difficult time, Sharma advised to stay away from the blame game.
On action points and imports
Informing about increasing medical oxygen capacity, Sharma revealed that the work is in progress to repurpose oxygen plants, identify additional startups and industries for oxygen production and build new designs to bridge the supply and demand gap. “However, the real bottleneck just now is supply and logistics. That is being addressed by expert groups,” he informed.
Favoring the imports, Sharma clarified that they had no inkling that the scale would be so huge and the intensity so high. Hence considering the unprecedented scale and the timely need for supplies, imports at a time of crisis is what all countries do, he informed.
Advising people to stay masked, Sharma concluded saying that there is a need to be constantly prepared and enhance expertise and infrastructure in research, in modelling and crisis response.