As this issue of your newspaper reaches you, the coronavirus pandemic is into its ninth month. In parts of the country, like the national capital Delhi, the coronavirus has had its peak in June, and then a second peak in September, from which it has emerged.
However, when we look at India as a whole, the month of September has been very challenging with virus cases over ninety thousand for a sustained number of days and more than a thousand patients losing their lives on a daily basis. It is only in the tail-end of the month that there has been some glimmer of relief in terms of number of cases, but the deaths remain above one thousand a day. It is hoped that the worst is now behind us and we can now clearly see the light at the end of the Corona tunnel.
Sero surveys have revealed that the daily official data of cases and deaths has been showing us only the tip of the corona iceberg. The actual numbers of people infected by the virus has been forty times more. In Delhi, a very large percent of the population has had coronavirus and has recovered without being tested, let alone seeing a doctor.
So, crores of people in India have had their brush with the coronavirus and have recovered. More importantly, these recovered people have acquired immunity in terms of anti-bodies and T-cells which should stand them in good stead.
As more and more crores of people in India are getting the coronavirus and recovering, there are that many less people left to be infected, making the task of infecting new people progressively more difficult for the virus.
One remembers the horrible month of June in Delhi, when less than five thousand tests a day were yielding fifteen hundred corona positives a day. The positivity rate, which is the number of corona positives per 100 tests, had reached 33%. It has now come down to just over 6% in Delhi and is pointing southwards. The falling positivity rate indicates that the virus is finding it difficult to infect new people and this is good news indeed. However, people continue to die of the virus, and so, it can not be taken lightly or casually.
Even though the coronavirus may not have its peak any more, it is not going away any time soon. It seems that the virus will be with us at a low intensity for many more months. Fortunately, the case fatality rate of the coronavirus is very low, say, one death in 1250 cases, as indicated by sero surveys. This means that people have to now go ahead with their lives, albeit with social distancing, mask wearing, hand washing etc. without compromise.
With the intensity of the coronavirus pandemic showing signs of weakening, it is not the virus itself, but its collateral damage that is now posing more serious health risks.
Due to the fear that they might contract the coronavirus, many patients with serious illnesses are avoiding going to hospitals. Many cancer patients are not getting treatment, with the result that their condition is worsening. By the time they do go to the hospital, the disease has progressed and the advantage of timely treatment is lost, closing many options for the patients. Same is the case with heart disease. Patients are putting off treatment and thereby worsening their situation. The extended period of staying cooped up at home is also leading to mental health issues.
Many neighbourhood doctors, especially ENT specialists and Dentists, are not opening their clinics for reasons of safety.
The medical fraternity will have to find a way so that the patients of non-Covid health issues can get their treatment in a safe environment and can be assured of that. The need of the hour is a transition to normalcy so that the doctors and patients of non-Covid health issues can get back to optimizing the health outcomes in a safe environment. As corona and the lockdown recede, the collateral damage to health in general, and the worsening of serious illnesses in particular, need to be addressed as a priority.