Sunday, June 20, 2021

India reopened prematurely, causing ongoing Covid surge: Top US medical adviser

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Top public health officials of the Biden administration told US lawmakers on Tuesday that the ongoing devastating surge in Covid-19 cases in India is the result of an “incorrect assumption” that led to reopening “prematurely” and it has become a cautionary tale of the dangers of not being careful.

“The reason that India is in such dire straits now is that they had an original surge and made the incorrect assumption that they were finished with it,” Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infection Diseases and chief medical adviser to the US president, said at a Senate hearing when asked what lessons could be learnt from the situation in India.

He added that “they opened up prematurely and wound up having a surge right now that we’re all very well aware of is extremely devastating”.

Fauci is known for offering straightforward assessments and views that had put him at odds with former president Donald Trump and his conservative allies such as Senator Rand Paul, who continue to question his views.

Fauci went on to list two more lessons emerging from India’s ongoing battle with the second wave of Covid-19 cases and fatalities, which are projected by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, a US research body, to rise cumulatively to 1.49 million by September 1.

The second lesson from India, Fauci said, is the need for “preparedness”. “We need to continue to build up our local public health infrastructure which over the last decades, we have led to actually in many respects go into disarray, likely because of our successes in controlling so many diseases,” he said.

The third lesson, Fauci said, “is that this is a global pandemic that requires a global response, and we need to pay attention to the responsibility that we have not only for our own country but to join with other countries, to make sure that we have the access to interventions, particularly vaccines, throughout the world”.

The epidemiologist pointed to a new variant of Sars-Cov2 detected in India, B.1.617. “We have a threat here in the United States, particularly with variants and you know this one variant in India.”

Fauci, who has shaped the Biden administration’s response to the pandemic, pressed for the need to send Covid-19 vaccines to India and other countries, over and above the supplies already sent to India, such as oxygen cylinders, PPE kits, therapeutic drugs and test kits.

Rochelle Walensky, who heads the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cited India as a cautionary tale of what to not do.

With more people getting vaccinated, she said while giving senators an update on the situation in the US and abroad, “we are cautiously optimistic. However, globally the pandemic is more severe than ever. India’s surge of cases is tragic and a reminder that the virus can rapidly outstrip our efforts to contain it, if we are not careful”.

More than 152 million Americans have received at least one shot of a Covid-19 vaccine so far, which is 57.2% of the eligible population and 46% of the total population.

While the US government has sent assistance worth $100 million to India, it has also indefinitely suspended travel from the country on the advice of the CDC due to – as the White House said in an announcement in April end – the Covid-19 “caseloads and multiple variants circulating in India”.

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