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Palpable Fear

Covid is spreading in India like a wildfire. Nothing can stop it and the explosion in case counts is just horrific.

India braced for the first wave in a remarkable way. The lockdowns were done in a timely manner and lifted with care although migrant workers were caught in a crisis of epic proportions. The numbers rose rapidly in the initial surge but not as fast as they rose in the US and Brazil.

There was talk about how Indians are able to resist the virus possibly because of the BCG vaccine for tuberculosis we took as children. In November 2020, Cedars-Sinai in LA released a study that established a preliminary link between BCG and ability to fight Covid. More studies are underway now.

Winter came and went in India and people continued to be cautious.

Early this year two vaccines brought a huge sigh of relief. Covaxin, discovered and manufactured in India, and Covishield, discovered by AstraZeneca and manufactured by the Serum Institute in Pune, were quickly rolled out to front-line workers in healthcare and then to vulnerable populations. By the end of Q1, India had even exported 19.6M doses of the vaccine to other countries.

Just as it was looking like things were coming under control, a new wave of Covid infections hit India last month. The country is estimated to have broken 300,000 cases per day this week. The actual number could be even higher.

Nature reports that 1/5th of the Indian population, i.e., 270M people - nearly the size of the US population! - has already been infected prior to the current surge and 50% of the population in mega cities like Delhi and Mumbai exhibited antibodies as recently as January '21.

All of this should have resulted in lower case counts, but the curve is rising at a gravity-defying pace!

Scientists are attributing the explosion to a new variant, called B.1.617. This is now the dominant variant in densely populated parts of India. It transmits at a faster rate and more successfully evades immune defenses. Entire households are testing positive when one person is infected.

This surge is hitting the urban population in greater numbers because they are likely exhausted from isolating for over a year and have abandoned social distancing norms. More vaccines would help but manufacturers, stymied by a failing supply chain, are no longer able to keep pace with the demand within the country, let alone being able to export to other countries.

No doubt, we will be studying the reasons and impacts of the surge for the foreseeable future.

In the meantime, our extended families are reporting daily infections, elders are succumbing. This time the fear is palpable and constant. Even though we are surrounding our families with prayers and good wishes, deep down we are petrified because this virus has a way of defying every expectation, hope, and prayer.

I wish your families in India safe passage through this unbelievably dark journey. Love and hugs.


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