Shut country for few weeks, build makeshift hospitals like China: Dr Fauci on India’s Covid crisis
America’s top pandemic expert and the White House chief medical adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci, on Friday prescribed a number of measures that India should immediately take to take on the second wave of Covid-19 in a war footing. The three primary recommendations laid down by Dr Fauci are an immediate imposition of lockdown for a couple of weeks, setting up of emergency units as hospitals like China and having a central organisation.
Along with the suggestions on how to tackle the pandemic, Dr Fauci also mentioned that that victory against the coronavirus was declared by the Indian government “too prematurely”.
In an exclusive interview with the Indian Express, Dr Fauci, after looking at the visuals of the grave Covid crisis in India on CNN, said that the country is in a “difficult and desperate situation”.
“One of the things you really need to do that to the extent that you can — is shut down temporarily the country, I think is important. If we want to time out and go back to what I said. There is the immediate, the intermediate, and the long range. I think the most important thing in the immediate is to get oxygen, get supplies, get medication, get PPE, those kinds of things but also, one of the immediate things to do is to essentially call a shutdown of the country,” he said.
“We know that when China had this big explosion a year ago, they completely shut down. And if you shut down, you don’t have to shut down for six months. You can shut down temporarily to put an end to the cycle of transmission. So one of the things to be considered is to temporarily shut down. Literally, lock down so that you wind up having less spread,” he said.
“One of the things that you can do to prevent this prolonging — you’ve got to look at it in multiple different phases. For example, vaccinating people right now, which you absolutely must, must do — it’s essential — is not going to alleviate the immediate problem of people needing oxygen, needing hospitalisation, needing medical care. That’s not going to fix it now because vaccinating people today, it’s going to be a few weeks before you alleviate the prevention of other people getting sick,” he said.
Urging the world to come together to India rescue, Dr Fauci said, “I would think that you’ve got to get some sort of a commission, or an emergency group to make a plan how to get oxygen; how do we get supplies; how do we get medications, and call — maybe with help from WHO — countries. Like the USA, other countries should also to come in and help India right now because India has been very generous in the past crises in helping other countries. Now is the time other countries to try to alleviate the immediate problem that India has. That’s the first thing.”
Secondly, India should follow what the Chinese did when they had a crisis, he said. “You might recall, literally, within a few days to weeks they built these emergency units that served as hospitals to take care of people. It was an accomplishment that everybody marvelled at. It just seems to me, what I was viewing on television, what people were looking for a desperate need for hospital and care. That’s the first thing.
Then, the Centre can mobilise different groups of government, he said. “For example, what is the role of the military? Can the military come in and help? I mean, you can immediately get military help the way we, in the United States, have used our National Guard to help us distribute the vaccinations.”
“Get hospitals built quickly. I mean really quickly, within a matter of — you know, they put up these field hospitals that they built during war. You should think of this, in some respects, like a war. The enemy is the virus. So you know where the enemy is, so I would make it almost like wartime because it’s an emergency. And, finally, in the longer range, in a matter of a couple weeks, I would do whatever you can do to get vaccinated. To have a country like India, where two per cent of people are vaccinated, is a very serious situation. You absolutely have to get more people vaccinated.
Dr Fauci asked the PM Modi-led Union government to look at the “absolute immediate problem, get the intermediate things going, and then take a look at the longer range in regards to vaccines.”
When asked if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US national health protection agency) has been asked to help in genome sequencing of the Indian variants, Dr Fauci said, “Well, we absolutely need to study it intensively to find out if the vaccines that are being used are inducing a response that would be protective against this variant. We heard some preliminary announcements that the vaccine appeared to be okay. But there are another announcements that were saying we aren’t so sure about that.”
“So what I think needs to be done very, very quickly is to get specimens and material outside of India and sent to the CDC of the United States, the NIH (National Institute of Health) of the United States, to the Wellcome Trust in the UK. There are a lot of groups that would like very much to help out and they can help out by doing the sequencing and the surveillance and the determination if the virus is, in fact, sensitive to the antibodies that are induced by the vaccine,” he said.
On ways to get the public interest served on the vaccination front, Dr Fauci said, “You’ve got to get supplies. You’ve got to make contractual arrangements with the various companies that are out there in the world. There are many companies that now have vaccines. I think you have to negotiate with them to try and get a commitment. India is what, 1.4 billion people? You have a lot of vaccines that you need to get, and I would go to multiple different companies and try to get contractual arrangements so that you can get vaccines as quickly as you possibly can.”
He also added that to get vaccines from China and Russia is “absolutely” the route to take in the situation
“You only have two per cent of your people vaccinated. This is what I heard. I don’t know if that’s accurate but that’s what I’m hearing (2% is the number of those who have got both doses, 11% have got at least one dose). And, if that’s the case, you have a long way to go if you really want to protect the people in India. I would leave no stone unturned in getting as many companies as you possibly can to be able to make a contractual arrangement to get vaccines. And also, India is the largest vaccine-producing country in the world. That’s the thing — you should rev up your own capabilities to make vaccines.”
Earlier, on Wednesday, Dr Fauci had said that India’s home-grown COVID-19 vaccine, has been found to neutralise the 617 variant of the deadly virus.
“This is something where we’re still gaining data on a daily basis. But the most recent data, was looking at convalescent Sera of COVID-19 cases and people who received the vaccine used in India, the Covaxin. It was found to neutralise the 617 variants,” the 80-year-old physician-scientist and immunologist said.
“So, despite the real difficulty that we’re seeing in India, vaccination could be a very, very important antidote against this,” Fauci the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical advisor to the president, had added.