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K VijayRaghavan: Can’t ramp up infrastructure in a year for wave so intense

VijayRaghavan admitted that everyone had been caught by surprise at the intensity of second wave and that the availability of vaccines, and the continuous decline in cases after the first wave, could have contributed to the failure to anticipate the size of the current wave.

Written by Amitabh Sinha
Pune | Updated: April 29, 2021 7:42:47 am
K Vijay Raghavan, second covid-19 wave, coronavirus cases in india, second wave, covid-19 cases in india, deaths in india due to coronavirus, india news, indian expressK Vijay Raghavan, Principal Scientific Advisor to the Union government

Acknowledging that the “sense of urgency” in ramping up health infrastructure had “declined” after the first wave of infections, K VijayRaghavan, Principal Scientific Advisor to the Central government, has said that even with the best of efforts it would not have been possible to upgrade the infrastructure to a level adequate to meet the unprecedented requirements of the second wave.

“There were major efforts by Central and state governments in ramping up hospital and healthcare infrastructure during the first wave… But as that wave declined, so perhaps did the sense of urgency to get this completed,” VijayRaghavan, the topmost scientific officer in the government, told The Indian Express in an interview.

“(But)… it is important to keep in mind that it is just not possible to amplify the capacities of a public health system within a year to a level that would be sufficient to cope with what we are seeing now…You can build about 20-25 per cent more capacity in one year in some locations… A five-fold increase in capacity cannot be built within a year,” he said.

VijayRaghavan admitted that everyone had been caught by surprise at the intensity of second wave and that the availability of vaccines, and the continuous decline in cases after the first wave, could have contributed to the failure to anticipate the size of the current wave.

“While we were all aware of second waves in other countries, we now had vaccines at hand, and, there were no indications from modelling exercises that suggested the scale of the surge that what we are seeing. So, it became a race to vaccinate as many as we could, while also maintaining Covid-appropriate behaviour. Doing the former (vaccinating everyone) takes time. We slackened on the latter (following Covid-appropriate behaviour),” he said, adding that measures like face-masks and physical distancing and restrictions on large gatherings needed to be strictly enforced and abided by.

“…everyone had been emphasising that until most are vaccinated, we must follow Covid- appropriate behaviour. Perhaps we got used to hearing this too often. It is not easy to be observant for so long, but this is literally a matter of life and death,” he said.

VijayRaghavan, a distinguished biologist who has earlier served as Secretary in the Department of Biotechnology, denied suggestions that India had miscalculated the demand for vaccines.

“We have arrangements to bring in more vaccines, and they would be coming in in the next few months. Serum has an arrangement with Novavax. This will come by about July. Johnson & Johnson has tied up with Biological E. This will come soon. Zydus should be ready in some time. Sputnik is already there. All of this has been facilitated actively from early last year, at the start of the pandemic. That is why we can have them now and soon. The intensity of the second wave has made everything look stressed,” he said.

He suggested that Delhi could “soon” start seeing a decline in its daily count of cases, and the second wave could peak next month. “But much depends on what we do by way of behaviour,” he said.

“The situation in Uttar Pradesh continues to be a concern. Also, in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. West Bengal, Bihar and Jharkhand also need to be extremely watchful. All these states, by the way, can still turn around things. It is not that the situation has to deteriorate further. With immediate strong action, it is possible to prevent further deterioration,” he said.

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