There is a possibility of situation created by COVID-19 returning to normal by the middle of next year even if a vaccine is not developed by then, Dr Sanjay Rai, Professor in Community Medicine Department at AIIMS, has said.
Dr Rai, who is also a principal investigator of the Bharat Biotech Covaxin clinical trial at AIIMS, said that COVID-19 preventive measures like wearing masks, hand hygiene should be followed till there is an effective vaccine.
"By mid-next year, there's a possibility of normalcy even if vaccine comes or not. There is always the natural end of any pandemic so it (COVID-19) will end too. It can happen in three ways -- if we find a vaccine, if we give effective treatment or natural infection covers it. Only these three ways can end the infection. Today we do not have a vaccine or any effective treatment. If a vaccine does not come it will naturally end. When people will develop natural immunity, the virus will naturally end and it depends on our strategy," Dr Rai said.
He said there has been a decline in cases in areas which had reported huge numbers in the past.
"Let us take the example of Dharavi in Mumbai. This place was reporting a large number of COVID cases but the situation is almost under control there. Similarly in Delhi, newer areas are witnessing an increase in COVID cases unlike previous containment zones," he said, adding that people living in previous containment zones tend to obtain immunity against the virus.
Dr Rai said phase 2 clinical trial for COVID-19 vaccine is underway in India with a good sample size of more than 600 motivated volunteers. "Any vaccine will come by mid-next year, anywhere in the world, if everything goes as planned," he added.
Dr Rai said that 6.4 million adults above the age of 18 years were found infected in the national serosurvey conducted during April-May
"Indian Council of Medical Research serosurvey conducted in April-May found 6.4 million adults above the age of 18 years as infected. Sero-survey only shows the direction of infection while testing shows the actual number of infections," he said.
Dr Rai also suggested changing strategy and keeping the focus on reducing the mortality rate.
"I think we need to change our strategy. We should focus more on reducing the mortality rate instead of testing as testing will only increase the number of infected people and still, we will not be able to trace even 10 per cent of the total infected people. Ninety per cent infected people will be left untraced so now we need to test only those who need it and should focus on reducing the death rate," he said.
He also suggested treating co-morbid patients with mild infections at home if possible.
"The criteria says that if the patient is in co-morbid condition, he should be admitted in the hospital. But it will only increase the bed occupancy and mortality rate due to the possibility of hospital-acquired infection. It would be better to monitor co-morbid patients at home otherwise the mortality rate will increase," he said.
According to the ICMR, over 6 crore samples to detect the coronavirus infections have been tested up to September 17.
India's COVID-19 case count has crossed the 52-lakh mark with a spike of 96,424 new cases and 1,174 deaths.