The month of March marks two years since the World Health Organisation characterized the worldwide spread of the Coronavirus or COVID-19 as a pandemic. India is witnessing better days with just 4,194 cases recorded on 10 March but the deaths still continue and there is an all-pervasive threat of yet another wave and yet another variant(s) looming over our heads.
Many countries are still witnessing a surge in cases including China, where the virus was first reported in 2019.
Here is a quick summary of the COVID-19 pandemic -
- Almost 500 million (50 crores) people have been infected with Coronavirus disease since March 2020.
- More than 6 million (60 lakhs) people have lost their lives in the last two years.
- The United States of America and India have seen the highest number of cases, with more than 81 million cases in the USA and 42 million cases in India.
- Nearly 0.5 million people have lost their lives from the Coronavirus in India.
- About 58% of the Indian population is fully vaccinated from the virus and more than 800 million people have received both doses of the vaccine.
COVID19 - Then and Now
There has been an increase in the number of hospital beds, a better mechanism of oxygen supply and more than half of the population fully vaccinated from COVID-19 since the catastrophic Delta wave in 2021. However, challenges remain with regards to medical infrastructure and reduced funds for meeting any emergency needs.
The last year saw a great emphasis on vaccine coverage and the Indian Government achieved the humongous task of vaccinating 98 % of the adult population with at least 1 dose. In other good news, about 75% of young adults (15-17-year-olds) have also received their first dose. India’s vaccination program has received a thumbs up from most major health experts and public health institutions from all over the world.
When the highly infectious Omicron wave hit the country in January, the cases reported were mild and the recovery was fairly quicker as compared to the destructive Delta wave that hit last year.
The country and the world indeed look better prepared than they were a year ago to take on any biological threats like Coronavirus and its family of ever-evolving variants.
The 2023 Budget saw only a minor rise in allocation for the health sector as the major push was given to boosting infrastructure. If another wave or a deadlier variant were to hit India, the numbers of infections and deaths may shoot up again given that a sound local health infrastructure and a disease surveillance system are still wanting.
The Indian Government and other stakeholders need to gear up and make sure that the primary health care system is strong enough to contain and control another major outbreak. India also needs to step up and provide booster doses to the population most at risk and cover vaccination for all age groups. More emphasis should be given to health research and the development of vaccines.
The virus continues to evolve and not much stress is being given to affordable vaccines, tests and treatment of the Coronavirus disease.
What is the New Normal?
Many countries such as Britain and Denmark have lifted all legal COVID 19 restrictions while India has resumed the service of all International flights for the first time in 2 years.
Most people have now adjusted to the new normal after the pandemic - wearing masks in public spaces, consistent sanitation of homes, offices, restaurants and other public places, working from home or a hybrid work model and living with the continuous threat of another outbreak.
Stress levels and cases of anxiety and depression have drastically increased as living in uncertain times has caused most people to deal with unprecedented changes to their life. The long-term impacts of COVID, both physical and mental, are still unknown.
A silver lining may still not be on the horizon, however, the coming days do not look as bleak, with regards to the pandemic. If WHO is to be believed, the ‘acute’ phase of the Coronavirus may be over in June this year - if the world achieves the target of vaccinating 70 percent of its population.
There are no clear answers to the question of when the pandemic will end. The pandemic may even transition to an ‘endemic’ where there are seasonal cases of flu, with Spain already witnessing milder outbreaks. Newer variants and recombinants of old variants may come up and maybe deadlier if the vaccination numbers remain unequal and research is not conducted thoroughly.
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