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Efficient surveillance is key to keep control on the pandemic, says Rakesh Mishra

Efficient surveillance which includes more testing and sewage surveillance is key to control the current COVID-19 pandemic. Testing - those with obvious COVID-19 symptoms- and random testing in offices, educational institutions and gatherings should be stepped up for quickly identifying COVID-19 positive persons and isolating them to arrest the virus spread, said Tata Institute for Genetics and Society (TIGS) Director and scientist Rakesh Mishra.

Governments should also invest in sewage surveillance, which is pretty effective, unbiased and inexpensive, and can give an early indication of any surge in cases five to six days in advance for the authorities concerned to act and take precautionary measures, he said on Friday.

The former CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) Director, involved in genome sequencing and testing protocols from the time the pandemic broke in March 2020 and continues to work in the institute here, cautioned that the "SARS-CoV-2 virus is still around and there is no reason to become complacent even as many activities have resumed".

While studies and research so far have been mostly confined to major cities, the population in the towns and villages as well as unvaccinated persons including children continue to be vulnerable, hence COVID-19 appropriate behaviour cannot be wished away, he insisted.

"Masks should be made mandatory by the Governments. We cannot keep restaurants or cinemas indefinitely shut so we should ensure the staff is fully vaccinated and masked. Still, there is an element of risk once you remove the mask in such places or in public transport," affirmed Dr. Mishra.

The pace of vaccination in the country has been 'decent' and the focus should continue to rapidly vaccinate the remaining beneficiaries and ensure that the second dose is administered for those who had already taken the first dose.

"We can think of a third or booster dose for the vulnerable sections after maximum coverage through vaccination. Vaccines are good and working well. They are not a guarantee you are not going to get infected, however, there are less chances of falling sick and mostly it could be mild. It could become serious for the aged and immuno-compromised, so we cannot take any chances," said the Director.

Antibodies' presence is known to decline due to various factors over the passage of time despite vaccination, but, the body has cellular immunity to give protection, hence there is no need to be alarmed on this count, he asserted. "We cannot afford to relax as we have not reached the finish line. With a little more discipline and caution for a few more months, we can get over this pandemic, without much pain" added Dr. Mishra.

‘Tricky’ phase

Former CSIR-CCMB Director Rakesh Mishra said the pandemic is in a "tricky phase" where the Delta variant or its off-shoots continue to be dominant yet there is a possibility of new variant which could go against the vaccines or more severe clinical symptoms could emerge from any corner.

"This can come from anywhere - from the northeast or from remote villages, therefore it is all the more important to keep track of the cases and continue genome sequencing of at least 5% of those detected," he said.

Due to the 10,000-odd cases being reported across the country, the INSACOG - Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium, with 28 public and four private labs need to get a sufficient number of positive samples across the country to keep an effective watch on the emergence of any such variant.

"Broadly, it is Delta everywhere or its off-shoots dominating the world with worrisome trends in the United States and Europe. It could be due to winter, indoor gatherings and vaccine hesitancy. Our advantage is the second wave has already infected large number people, >90% sero positivity in major cities, although at a great cost, is providing roadblock for the virus" he explained.

"We are at present in a good situation and in control but it also depends on us to prevent the virus from freely circulating in the population," said Dr. Mishra.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2022 2:37:10 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/efficient-surveillance-is-key-to-keep-control-on-the-pandemic-says-rakesh-mishra/article37701577.ece

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