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COVID-19 Waves Explained: Why Do New COVID Waves Occur?

As India reopens after the second wave of Covid-19 infections, experts warn that a third wave could strike in the next few months. Addressing the Union Health Ministry's media briefing on COVID-19, held at National Media Centre, Dr VK Paul of NITI Aayog (think tank of the Government of India) explained the reasons behind the emergence of new pandemic waves and how it can be controlled or even avoided by following COVID appropriate behaviours and taking the right precautionary measures.

Even as daily COVID-19 cases in India are declining, the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences' Chief has said that a third wave is inevitable [1]. It was added that the third wave might hit the country in the next six to eight weeks (July-August).

"There are countries where even the second wave has not occurred. If we do what is required and do not indulge in irresponsible behaviour, an outbreak should not occur. This is a simple epidemiological principle." Dr VK Paul said [2].

The expert went on to explain the reasons behind the emergence of new pandemic waves and how it can be controlled or even avoided.

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Why Do New Waves In Pandemic Happen?

Dr Paul said that there are four elements leading to the formation of a new wave, and they are as follows:

1. The behaviour of the virus: The virus has the capacity and ability to spread [3].

2. Susceptible host: The virus keeps looking for susceptible hosts for it to survive. So, if we are not protected either via vaccination or by the previous infection, then we are a susceptible host [4].

3. Transmissibility: The virus can become smart enough where it mutates and becomes more transmissible. The same virus which used to infect three hosts becomes capable of infecting 13! This factor is unpredictable. No one can pre-plan to fight such mutations.The change of the very nature of the virus and its transmissibility is an X factor, and no one can predict when and where it may happen [5].

4. Opportunity: ‘Opportunities', which we give to the virus to infect. If we sit and eat together, crowd, sit in closed areas without masks, then the virus gets more opportunities to spread [6].

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How Can The Public Control/Manage The New Waves?

While we have no control over the virus's behaviour, the expert stressed that by adopting the right measures, society could stop becoming triggers to the virus' opportunistic behaviour [7].

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Out of the four points that can trigger new waves, two elements, susceptibility and opportunities, are under our control; that is, we have the capacity to control or manage these two while the behaviour of the virus and transmissibility cannot be predicted or controlled.

  • Susceptibility: Susceptibility can be controlled by wearing a mask or getting vaccinated.
  • Opportunities: By following COVID Appropriate behaviour, opportunities of the virus contraction can be managed and can decrease susceptibility to infection.
  • Collective efforts of the citizens and the system are the need of time as it is necessary to stop another wave. The doctor said Some of these require individual efforts, while some others such as isolation of clusters, contact tracing, ensuring testing capacity and building awareness requires the system to act."

    As Dr Paul pointed out, pandemics throughout ages have had high transmissibility due to the lack of proper containment measures and that the waves may originate from human behaviour rather than from the virus diffusion itself [8].

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Govt. Advises People To Strictly Follow COVID Appropriate Behaviour

A large portion of the virus containment is in our hands. That is, by adhering to COVID appropriate behaviours, you can reduce the risk of spreading/contracting the respiratory illness and possibly contribute towards preventing a severe third wave.

1. Greet without physical contact.
2. Maintain physical distance. Keep a minimum distance of 6 feet. Also, follow distancing norms when in a room or office with other people.
3. Wear reusable hand-made face-cover or mask at all times if you are going out; DOUBLE MASK.
4. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. When you touch surfaces, your hands can easily pick up germs, then transfer them to your eyes, nose or mouth. And from there, the virus can enter your body, making you sick.
5. Maintain respiratory hygiene. Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze with a tissue or handkerchief. Wash your hands immediately after you cough or sneeze.
6. Wash hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water. Use alcohol-based hand sanitiser if you don't have soap and water.
7. Regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces. Practising good environmental hygiene makes your surroundings safer. You may use chemical disinfectants to clean the surfaces and make sure to wear gloves during disinfection.
8. DO NOT spit in the open. Every time you chose to do this unhygienic practice, you are putting yourself and other's life at risk. Studies have shown that spitting in public places can increase the risk of COVID-19 spread.
9. Avoid unnecessary travel and travel when it's absolutely essential. If you have to step out of your home, wear a mask and follow the distancing norms.
10. Do not discriminate. Show compassion and support to individuals and families affected with COVID-19.
11. Discourage crowd and encourage safety. Avoid going to social gatherings and crowded places. For unavoidable events, keep the number of guests to minimal.
12. Do not circulate social media posts that carry unverified or negative information.
13. Seek information on COVID-19 from credible sources.
14. Seek psychosocial support in case of any distress or anxiety. Coping with any public emergency or outbreak can be a testing time for people and their families, both affected or unaffected. DO NOT ignore or suppress any feelings of anxiety or distress. Call on national psychosocial toll-free helpline number 08046110007.
15. Call national toll-free helpline numbers 1075 or state helpline numbers for any COVID-19 related queries. If you have any COVID-19 related queries or observe any COVID-19 related symptoms like fever, cough or difficulty breathing, call the national helpline number.

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On A Final Note…

The virus is suppressed at present due to discipline and restrictions prevalent in many states, and if the restrictions were to be eased, the virus gets opportunities to infect - worsening the current situation.