The country is witnessing the fifth wave of Covid-19, with three deaths and more than 2,000 new cases recorded on Tuesday. The positivity rate has already crossed the 15% threshold. The Business Standard spoke to IEDCR advisor Dr M Mushtuq Husain to know what comes next and how we can cope with the situation and minimise the risks.
The new wave of Covid-19 has begun, and the positivity rate is skyrocketing. When will we see the peak point?
This is the fifth wave of the Covid-19 infection. What we are seeing now is the sub-variant of the Omicron. The first wave took much time to reach its peak. Omicron reached its peak very fast. But this wave will peak even more quickly than Omicron because its transmission capacity is higher. But it will subside very fast too, I think within July.
The total positivity rate should not be more than seven to eight. As people are not coming to test, the positivity rate has reached more than 15%. Based on the positivity rate, I can tell that the number of tests is insufficient. When the positivity rate is more than 10%, we understand that either people are not getting tested or the government does not have the capacity.
But the government's test facilities are enough; however, the rate of hospitalisation is low as people think that their cases are not that serious. As a result, they are not coming to get tested. If they test, they will have to remain home for 10 days and for this reason, they are avoiding tests.
I think more people will be infected than that they did with Omicron because this subvariant is spreading very fast. During Omicron's wave, the infection rate was more than 30%. I think the detection will not be more than 16,000 per day this time. It will cross the peak point before it reaches 16,000.
What is the reason behind the sudden spike in infections? Is there any reason to be scared of the new wave? Can it be deadly?
I think 99% of people who have been affected now have either been vaccinated or have gotten infected before. You can protect against infection for three months on average after getting vaccinated. After being infected, there is a chance of not getting infected for around three months.
Those who have been vaccinated and got infected as well, they have what is called a hybrid immunity. Hybrid immunity can protect someone for 3 to 6 months. Omicron subsided in March. This wave could have begun later if we had all maintained the health guideline more effectively.
That being said, even in countries like China and South Korea that have maintained strict health guidelines, the wave still reached there too. They were sure that Covid-19 would not come again. If the infection rises, the number of deaths will increase. For example, if one person dies out of 1,000 and one lakh people are infected, then the number of deaths will be 100. More than 100 people died in Shanghai, China. South Korea, which has been one of the frontline countries in controlling the Covid-19 infection, has also seen an unexpectedly high death rate.
The death rate rises because the infections rise. There is no way to be sure if the infection has spread vastly. We have vaccinated 70% of people; if the infection spreads and affects the remaining 30% of people, the number of deaths will rise. We should take a lesson from the cases in South Korea and Shanghai. There is a sufficient reason to be scared.
The death rate is low, but infections are high. Should the government impose strict restrictions again to curb the infection?
Now, we should inquire about who did not get vaccinated. We will have to vaccinate those who did not get it. The people who are getting infected should be kept in isolation. We should give them financial assistance to keep them at home.
The government will have to take steps. Not only the government, but the more affluent people in our country should also come forward to help those who need it the most.
The government must impose restrictions. But the time for all-out restriction has not come yet because the pressure on the hospitals is not tremendous yet. But we will have to ensure that people in restaurants, mosques, shopping malls, community centres and social gatherings wear masks and keep their distance. We will have to arrange the hand washing facilities again. We need to take the social initiative to provide poor people with masks.
If there is a massive surge in infections, does our hospital have the capacity to handle it?
We do not have the capacity in the hospitals compared to our population. But it is better now than in the past. We did not have to face an extreme crisis during the Omicron wave. But this wave is spreading faster than Omicron.
We will have to make preparations if there is a gap. We will have to provide high-flow oxygen in all district-level hospitals as well as upazila-level hospitals. We will have to keep health volunteers on standby.
The government has decided to give the vaccine to children between the ages of 5-12 years old. Is this necessary?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has already approved vaccination for children aged between five to 12 years. It is true that children will perhaps feel pain and suffer from fever, as the adults did. But we will have to give children vaccines too. There is no severe complication risk because these vaccines have been produced after trials.
Is there any chance of another new variant?
The more the infection will get the scope of spreading, the more the chance of mutation and giving birth to new variants. We will have to bear in mind that it will not always be a mild variant. There can be a variant which causes serious health complications and death. We will have to reduce the scope of spreading the infection. The more scope of spreading the virus gets, the more it will mutate.
We have seen that the people who died last week got all three doses of the vaccines. So, there are instances of people dying even after vaccination. We will have to maintain health guidelines and wear masks after vaccination.