Edited by: Pallavi NB
“WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock, and we are deeply concerned, both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction. We have therefore assessed that COVID-19 can be characterised as a pandemic.”
On March 11, 2020, these words by the World Health Organisation (WHO) director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, declared the COVID-19 epidemic as a pandemic. It was evident that the way we lived was going to change inevitably, and it did. However, with over 180 million cases, multiple virus strains, and almost 4 million deaths a year later, uncertainty settles in — is the pandemic here to stay permanently?
COVID’s Impact on Daily Lives
Local and international restrictions meant to curb the spread of SARS-CoV-2 were implemented, which included — stay at home orders, travel bans, and the closure of non-essential stores and public buildings like gyms, museums, cinemas, etc.
The stay-at-home orders brought in the supposed new normal of working — work from home. While there are employees who prefer this, many faced, and are still facing, increased burnout. According to Microsoft’s latest Work Trend Index, which surveyed 6000 work from home employees across eight countries globally, India had the second-highest percentage of workers facing increased burnout — 29%. In addition, 41% of the workers said that the lack of separation between personal and work life negatively impacted them, resulting in increased stress levels. Employees were burdened with the thought of being laid off as well. By August 2020, 10.8 million people lost jobs across sectors.
When it comes to education, there is just as much of a concern. Schools and colleges faced backlash about offline exams from students and parents alike. Moreover, with the shifting of classes to online modes like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, private colleges and schools quickly adapted and continued with all classes. Unfortunately, this option became unavailable for low-income private and government schools, meaning a complete stop to education due to no accessibility to e-resources.
However, through these ups and downs, there was a silver lining to it all. As of February 2021, seven vaccines have been rolled out in countries, and many are currently being clinically developed.
The Second Wave: How Did it Affect Us?
On May 8th, over 4 lakh new cases were reported in India; with the country recording the highest total daily cases globally, India’s healthcare system crumbled under its pressure. With oxygen shortages, unavailability of beds, and inability to attain life-saving drugs, hospitals have reached full capacity. As a result, states like Delhi, Haryana, and Maharashtra announced shortages of oxygen.
One drug that people flocked to purchase was Remdesivir. It is a drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat COVID-19. While people appealed for the drug online, paying a hefty sum of money, WHO recommended against its use. Four different trials were done on 7000 people. They concluded that the drug has no significant effect on mortality, need for mechanical ventilation, time to clinical improvement, or other patient-important outcomes.
As people flocked to social media searching for these commodities that had turned into luxuries, the government tried to limit the outlook. The government asked social media platforms to remove about 100 posts that were believed to “create panic about the COVID-19 situation in India by using sensitive posts and misinterpretations.” On April 24, Twitter removed over 50 posts, following this order. The majority of these tweets were critical of the Centre’s handling of the pandemic, talking about the shortage of necessities, mass cremations, and the gathering at Kumbh Mela amidst the pandemic. Defending the order, an official from the Minister of Electronics and IT said, “Government welcomes criticisms, genuine requests for help as well as suggestions in the collective fight against COVID-19, but it is necessary to take action against those users who are misusing social media during this grave humanitarian crisis for unethical purposes.”
Amidst the limitations being put on social media, India faced multiple challenges. Multiple new variants have been discovered, the healthcare system is reeling from the second wave, and crematoria were overwhelmed. As people living abroad critiqued and tried to donate to the cause, the situation faced due to the second wave remained grave.
How does the vaccine affect people?
India produced two vaccines— Covishield and Covaxin. The Indian Council of Medical Research and Bharat Biotech announced that phase 3 of the Covishield had shown a vaccine efficacy of 81 per cent in preventing COVID-19. However, while the government said both vaccines are safe, only Covishield has been approved by WHO. Regardless, there are some side effects to both vaccines.
People with any history of allergies and bleeding disorder must not take Covaxin. Moreover, if someone is on a blood thinner, pregnant or breastfeeding, they should also not take this vaccine. It is also advised not to take the vaccine if the person has taken another anti-COVID vaccine. Mild side-effects of the Covaxin vaccine are pain, swelling, redness, and itching at the injection site. Other side effects consist of body ache, headache, fever, malaise, rashes, weakness, nausea, and vomiting. Adverse side effects consist of difficulty in breathing, swelling of face and throat, fast heartbeat, rashes all over the body, dizziness and weakness.
For Covishield, the Serum Institute of India advised people not to get it if they had a severe allergic reaction after the first dose. Moreover, if someone is pregnant or breastfeeding, they shouldn’t take the vaccine. Some of the side effects of Covishield are redness, itching, tenderness, pain where the injection was given, chills or feeling feverish, and headache or joint aches.
Viruses are constantly changing, which creates a new variant or strain.
In late 2020, gene mutations in COVID-19 cases were observed in southern England. Since then, this strain has been reported in many countries. US scientists estimated that this variant could make the virus 70% more transmissible. In January 2021, a new COVID-19 strain was spotted in people from Brazil, who were tested during routine testing at an airport in Japan. By the end of the month, the variant was widely spread in the US. The strain appears to be much more contagious and affects people who have caught the virus before. Other strains of the virus have been observed in other countries, including South Africa and Nigeria. However, although easily transmissible, the South African variant does not seem to cause worse illness than the original virus.
A new double mutant variant was detected in samples in India. “Such mutations confer immune escape and increased infectivity,” said the health ministry in a statement. In addition, the mutation is more potent, making the virus inherently better at infecting. Even on receiving the vaccine, people can get infected. However, the effect of the virus is milder compared to in people who are not vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 before.
Third Wave: Will We Do Better or Worse?
With vaccinations being administered all over India, restrictions have begun to ease. However, Dr N.K. Arora, the chairman of the COVID working group under the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI), said that the third wave can be delayed till December. However, AIIMS Director Randeep Guleria warned that if COVID-appropriate behavior isn’t followed, then the third wave can hit us by mid-August.
A modelling study by a team of scientists from ICMR and the Imperial College, London, has stated that the potential third wave seems unlikely to be as severe as the second. ‘Rapid scale-up of Covid vaccination efforts could play an important role in mitigating the present and future waves of the disease,’ says the study.
Another study done by IIT Kanpur professors suggests that the third wave will occur in September or October this year. They made use of the SIR model, an epidemiological model that computes the theoretical number of people infected with a contagious illness in a closed population over time. On assuming that restrictions will be fully eased by July 15 in India, they came up with three possible scenarios.
The first scenario indicated that the third wave will peak in October but would have a lower peak height compared to the second wave, if things return to normal. The second scenario indicated a peak in September which could be higher than the second wave, if things return to normal and there are new virus mutations. Lastly, the third scenario suggested that the peak of the third wave can be delayed till the end of October with stricter restrictions, making its peak lower than that of the second wave.
Effect of COVID vaccine on these strains
The COVID-19 vaccines currently in development or have been approved are said to provide some protection against the new variants. So, changes in the virus should not make vaccines completely ineffective. However, many epidemiologists and virologists believe that the vaccine will be ineffective within a year due to the virus’s mutations.
Not much has changed since March 2020—we are all still confined within the four walls of our room. The only upside to the situation is that vaccinations are possible for anyone of or above the age of 18. Moreover, there may be vaccinations being provided for the age group 12-18 as well soon. As the world continues to battle the virus even a year later, it is crucial to remember to sanitise, maintain distance, avoid going out unnecessarily, and get the vaccination.