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India's third COVID wave 'inevitable,' top scientist warns

May 6, 2021

As India struggles to curb the spread of COVID-19 and step up vaccinations, experts have warned the country to prepare for future waves of the pandemic. It's hoped that US support for a vaccine waiver will see results.

Rohit Gupta, 27 and Nandani Gupta, 42, receive their first dose of COVISHIELD, a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India
India is struggling to curb the world's largest coronavirus surge.Image: Niharika Kulkarni/REUTERS

India's top scientific adviser has warned that the country would inevitably face further waves of the coronavirus, as India struggled with record deaths and daily infections. 

The country reported 3,980 deaths related to COVID-19 and at least 412,262 new infections on Thursday.

The government's principal scientific adviser said that even when the numbers subside, the country should be ready for a third wave of the pandemic.

"Phase 3 is inevitable, given the high levels of circulating virus," K. Vijay Raghavan said during a news briefing. "But it is not clear on what timescale this phase 3 will occur... We should prepare for new waves."

He also touted the efficacy of vaccines against new mutations like the UK variant and the B.1.617 variant but warned that surveillance and vaccine updates were needed as the virus mutates.

India's second wave of the virus has seen health care crumble with hospitals running out of beds, medical oxygen and supplies. Morgues and crematoriums have overflowed as people died in ambulances and car parks while waiting for beds or oxygen.

As the government faces increased criticism for its handling of the pandemic, opposition parties have called for a stricter nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the virus.

Despite calls for harsher restrictions, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shown reluctance in declaring a nationwide lockdown over possible repercussions on the flailing economy. However, several states have continued to impose strict lockdowns as the latest wave of the virus brings the country's health care infrastructure to its knees.

According to the World Health Organization, India accounted for nearly half of the recorded COVID-19 cases across the world this past week. Medical experts believe that a large number of unidentified cases is also probable.

COVID: Citizens bridge gap left by authorities in India

Mass vaccination drive

Last week, India began a mass vaccination campaign to inoculate all citizens over the age of 18. However, daily COVID-19 inoculations have dropped sharply from an all-time high reached in early April as local companies struggle to increase supplies and imports are limited. 

The country has stepped up outreach to foreign vaccine makers by reaching out to Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to sell their vaccines to the country. 

India is also one of the countries calling for the lifting of patents, copyrights and protections for industrial design and confidential information related to COVID-19 vaccines. They have called for the suspension of such protections for several years to help speed up vaccine production.

The call received a major boost on Wednesday, when US Trade Ambassador Katherine Tai announced that the US will support a proposal to waive IP protections for coronavirus vaccines, citing "extraordinary circumstances."

The issue was first spearheaded at the World Trade Organization, which will hold further talks on the idea on Thursday. 

see/msh (Reuters, AP)