Countering the C to C challenge: Time to checkmate the virus

Dear fellow citizens of Karnataka,

Notwithstanding the looming threat of a third wave, the real risk is not as much about the covid-19 virus, as it is about our own reckless behaviour. While face masks now seem to be ‘waiting at home’, appropriate social distancing has been conveniently redefined as anti-social dilly-dallying. Everywhere, we see people vacationing, partying, and overcrowding in public places as if there is no tomorrow. Sadly, there may indeed be no tomorrow if we take this mayhem too far.

This is an earnest plea from two concerned fellow citizens, more than a police officer and a doctor, to collectively fight the Covid to Citizen (C to C) Challenge and beat the virus at its own game. If we are to counter the challenge that Covid has thrown at us, of staying Covid negative and mentally positive, we need to solemnly introspect and pay heed to the following points:

  1. During the first wave, our fear of the virus, as also the alertness, was very high. Conversely, the impact of the first mutant, the D614G variant from Wuhan, was low.
  2. The second wave, engineered by the Delta variant, left us devastated. Sadly, our preparedness was extremely low, given that we wrongly presumed the first wave was the last.
  3. As we face the looming threat of a more lethal third wave, It is fatal to assume that we are nearing herd immunity, and all will be fine soon. Instead, it is time to play an active role as citizens to try and evade the third wave. We need to diligently ensure three things, which are nothing short of game changers in our fight against Covid:
    1. Treating the face mask as our daily vaccine dose: we should not underestimate the power of a face mask, which just like the common man, is capable of bigger miracles. A face mask plays a key role in stopping the spread of the virus. No wonder, doctors fought the first wave only with their face masks, when there was not a single vaccine around.
    2. Taking the actual vaccine doses which may not avert the spread of the virus, but they will certainly prevent fatalities and complications post infections.
    3. Maintaining adequate ventilation in our surroundings, which is a highly effective way of keeping the virus at bay. Is it not better to seek the support of adequate ventilation at home, rather than having to beg for ventilator support in a hospital!

Why are the above three game changers? Because they are our best bets against the more aggressive forms of newer variants and their acquired ability of aerosol transmission. Moreover, hand hygiene and social distancing will complement these game changers.

We know by now that Covid is a socio-economic virus; it does not have hands or feet of its own. We are the ones who help it move, get stronger, and create new mutants, some of which may become vaccine-escape variants. It is pertinent to note how the double mutant of October 2020 become the delta variant in December 2020 and created havoc during the larger part of the second wave when our positivity rate went above 30%, and we touched 50,000 new cases every day. Nearly 17 percent of the new cases needed oxygen, which meant a whopping 8500 people. Given that Karnataka has around 12000 oxygen beds and 4000 ventilators, hospitals could cater to patients only for about two weeks. No government in any part of the world is geared to handle a pandemic of this ghastly magnitude.

In the first week of march, Karnataka’s positivity rate was around 0.5%. By the end of March, it rose to 4%. In April first week, it was in the region of 5%, but in the last week, it jumped to 25%. The virus thrives on exponential growth once it is given the comfort of a conducive environment. Let’s deny it this luxury. Let’s disrupt this vicious cycle.

How do we do that? By continuously monitoring the 7-day positivity rate going forward and keeping a cut-off of less than 5%. This can only happen if we curb our social and entertainment activities and reimagine our get-togethers and celebrations as micro-entertainment events with minimal social interaction and maximum social distancing. We need to do this for the sake of our economic wellbeing, such that shops, offices, factories, schools, and colleges run as smoothly and seamlessly as possible, and more importantly, our large populations of daily wage earners and salaried classes are able make both ends meet in these trying times.

We should not allow the virus to profit from our fatigue and lack of volunteerism. Covid not leads to a loss of sense and smell, it can also deprive us of our common sense, which is evident from the way we are behaving even after suffering the wrath of the second wave. The biology of the virus feeds on our behaviour. Covid cases come down not because the virus decides to take a break, but only because we follow protocols through lockdowns. But since lockdowns cripple the economy, we need to come forward to ensure that we beat the virus without forcing the government to enforce lockdowns.

We need to join hands with the government to unlock in phase-wise manner using the “End of Circuit Breaker” model of Singapore, while minimizing the risk of a Covid resurgence:

Phase one – “safe reopening”: Resume low transmission-risk economic activities but prohibit social and entertainment activities.

Phase two – “safe transition”: if the community transmission rates remain low and stable (TPR <5%), gradually resume more activities, including social activities in small groups.

Phase three – “safe state”: Continue to ease measures gradually until we achieve vaccine coverage of 60%, which should be done on a war-footing, importing additional vaccine candidates if required.

As citizens, we can’t expect the government to prevent a Covid catastrophe or cope with it on its own. Talking of hospitals, they are meant to treat sick people, a small segment of the population; they are not meant to cater to the entire population at one go. So, while the government fights tooth and nail to arrange for beds, oxygen cylinders, and ventilators, it is our duty to try and prevent the need for hospital beds in the first place.

After all, this war against the virus will never be won in hospitals but from our homes, shops, offices, schools and colleges which will have to run like clinical establishments, ensuring all Covid-appropriate behavior and protocols. We can make it happen if we give it our best shot, which is as critical as the vaccine jab!

Let us turn the tables on this virus, let us leave it gasping for breath, once and for all.