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EDITORIAL ANALYSIS : A fresh COVID-19 data interpretation approach

   

Source: The Hindu

 

  • Prelims: Current events of national importance, Government policies, Covid-19, pandemic treaty).
  • Mains GS Paper II: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementations etc

 

ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS

  • There is a fresh spike in COVID-19 cases in India.
  • Arthur Schopenhauer(German philosopher): Life swings like a pendulum backward and forward between pain and boredom.”

         

INSIGHTS ON THE ISSUE

Context

Pandemic:

  • According to the WHO, a pandemic is declared when a new disease for which people do not have immunity spreads around the world beyond expectations.

Epidemic:

  • An epidemic is a large outbreak, one that spreads among a population or region.
  • It is less severe than pandemic due to a limited area of spread.

 

Covid-19

  • The novel coronavirus outbreak in 2019-2020 with the nickname COVID-19 is a new strain of viruses which can cause fever, cough, breathing difficulties, pneumonia and even death in humans.
  • WHO: It declared COVID-19 infections as a public health emergency of international concern and later called it a pandemic.
  • RNA virus: Coronavirus consists of an RNA genome and is one of the largest in the RNA family.
  • Single stranded: Coronaviruses are enveloped and contain single-stranded positive-sense RNA.

 

Reasons for recent surge in COVID-19:

  • 1.16 recombinant variant which has higher transmissibility in comparison to other circulating variants.
  • Viral flu surge (H1N1 and H3N2 sub-types) which resulted in health-care providers recommending higher COVID-19 testing.
  • Availability of COVID-19 testing at low cost, nudging people who have a cough and cold to get themselves voluntarily tested.

 

Situation around Covid-19:

  • Epidemiological evidence shows that COVID-19 has become endemic in India.
    • A disease becoming endemic does not mean zero cases or no seasonal surge.

 

Swine flu (H1N1) pandemic(2009-10):

  • It was caused by influenza A virus new subtype H1N1.
  • It was a pandemic that got over in 2010.
  • H1N1 subtype is causing a seasonal rise in flu cases, and is the most commonly circulating influenza A virus subtype.

 

Impact of Ill-informed discourses:

  • Any discussion about a fresh surge has a social impact in terms of
    • creating panic and fear
    • apprehensions in parents about sending their children to school (thus, causing learning loss)

 

Sub-variant XBB.1.16 (which essentially is a recombinant of the Omicron variant):

  • It is one of 100-plus recombinant variants and one of 700-plus SARS-CoV-2 variants which have been reported in the last three years.
  • It is not a variant of concern as Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Omicron were.
  • On average, around four to five new variants of SARS-CoV-2 have been detected every week.

 

What steps need to be taken?

  • Experts should arrive at a consensus on the number of COVID-19 cases which are expected even when the disease is endemic.
    • This could be in terms of absolute numbers or new cases per 1,00,000 people per week or month.
  • There is a need for a more objective approach to define parameters to track COVID-19 situations.
    • In public health, the approach should be to collect information to intervene.
  • Targeted and voluntary testing, daily COVID-19 cases and test positivity rates are a very weak parameter as well as a flawed approach
    • Better parameter would be to focus on and track moderate to severe illnesses and hospitalization.
  • Desegregation of data by those who were admitted after COVID-19 infections, and those who were already in hospitals and incidentally tested positive.
  • Tracking, comparing and analyzing COVID-19 data on a monthly and weekly basis for the calendar year.
  • New dashboard indicators should begin tracking for the year 2023 onwards
    • It will give an idea of trends — these were obliterated by cumulative data for the last three years.
  • Various forms of surveillance:
    • Genomic, wastewater, influenza-like illness and Severe Acute Respiratory illness.
    • They are going to be integral tools for response in the long term.
    • Some of the datasets should be linked to clinical outcomes.
  • The multiple agencies working in these systems should work with clinicians, data, and public health experts to make real time inferences.
  • The government should put out this data in the public domain so that independent researchers and academicians can analyze and support the response process.
  • Governments should focus on the public health aspects of:
    • rolling out new parameters to track the disease
    • develop strategies to fight misinformation and ‘COVID-forevers’
    • launch sustained health communication messages about preventing all respiratory illnesses.

 

Way Forward.

  • For citizens, it is important not to panic with every spike, not be influenced by unverified social media messages, and to learn to conduct individual self-assessment of risk and take preventive measures according to the health risk.
  • The response to the evolving COVID-19 situation needs to be determined by a holistic assessment of the situation through:
    • careful examination and interpretation of ECG data
    • Epidemiological (trend in moderate to severe cases)
    • Clinical (change in symptoms, hospitalization and outcome)
    • Genomic and other surveillance (variants, etc.) data.
  • The selection of data for decision making needs to be objective, factoring in the evolving epidemiology of COVID-19 and being solution oriented.

 

QUESTION FOR PRACTICE

Critically examine the role of WHO in providing global health security during the COVID-19 Pandemic.(UPSC 2020) (200 WORDS, 10 MARKS)