COVID-19 | CCMB Director urges govts to halt crowding activities

There is an immediate need for the governments to control all the activities involving clustering of people into groups to control the current “dangerous” trend in the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the country and across many States, assert top scientists involved in combating the SARS-CoV-2 virus on Friday.

Congregations and group activities to be curtailed include political meetings, rallies, road shows, markets, religious gatherings, cinema halls, restaurants, bars, pubs and any indoor events. “People meeting in groups in any of these activities is a recipe for disaster. We have to minimise crowding because lockdowns affect the economy and livelihoods, so we have to ensure non-essential things are stopped,” said CSIR-Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology (CCMB) director Rakesh Mishra.

“If we have to keep a control on the virus, we have to wear masks all the time when we step outside the house even for walking the dog, or it is like being naked. There is no need to invite guests home for the next few months and ensure hand hygiene is practised. It may also be prudent to change clothes after an outdoor visit to be doubly cautious,” he suggests.

While the CCMB and other sister labs had already pronounced the airborne transmission of the coronavirus in closed environments which is now being universally accepted, Dr. Mishra attests that there is every chance of the virus hanging in the air for half hour or more in a room having an infected person with less ventilation or air flow.

“That is why we are saying the virus can spread in restaurants and cinema halls irrespective of occupancy ratio. A single person is enough to spread the virus when you take off the mask to eat or drink. In public toilets, the virus can hang around for two hours,” he warns.

The director says the virus variants ‘will keep coming’, at any given time, there are thousands of them — while most will be of no consequence, some will be more efficient in transmission compared to others, so there is nothing to panic because “we know that the threat is already there, all we need to be careful”.

“What we have to watch out for is if any of the variants are resistant to the vaccines available. So far, the reinfections are few, it means once infected, the person is protected and therefore, the vaccines are also likely to work. We are studying ‘B.1.617’, the so-called double mutation variant and will know the results in a few days,” he explains.

Rapid transmission can still be prevented by avoiding person-to-person contact rather than allowing the virus the opportunity to come up with worse variants. “We have noticed that the UK variant prevalence is high in Punjab and double mutant variant is high in Maharashtra — up to 50%, but here, in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and even Kerala, it is seen in 5-10% cases only. It is clear that people have contributed to the current spread with gatherings, ignoring COVID-appropriate behaviour. The governments, too, have been tolerant. It is disappointing as this could have been easily avoided,” laments Dr. Mishra.

There is no conclusive proof of mutations escaping the RT-PCR tests as it could also be due to early stage testing, not following due protocols during sample collection or testing, faulty equipment, lacunae in training the personnel, etc. Also, this method has “70-80% chance of getting it right”, he added.

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 5:40:38 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Hyderabad/ccmb-director-urges-govts-to-halt-crowding-activities/article34337987.ece

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