COVID-19, arguably, has become endemic in India

Source: The post is based on the article “COVID-19, arguably, has become endemic in India” published in The Hindu on 11th August 2022.

Syllabus: GS 2 – Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health.

Relevance: About the endemic nature of Covid-19.

News: It has been 29 months since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. However, new COVID-19 cases continue to be reported from different parts of the world, including India, regularly. This shows that Covid-19 has become an endemic state.

About the recent Covid-19 cases around the world

India: After the third wave in January 2022, India saw the lowest number of daily new COVID-19 cases in March and April.  However, since then, daily cases have spiked to around 18,000 a day. India revives the discussion on whether COVID-19 continues to remain pandemic or has become endemic.

Other countries: The United States has returned to a ‘no mandatory COVID-19 test’ for inbound passengers. In Europe, many countries are back to full normalcy.

What are the terms epidemics, pandemics and endemics mean?
Must read: Difference between epidemic, pandemic and endemic

Pandemics are not merely health events but also encompass the social and economic implications of infections and diseases. For instance, HIV/AIDS was an epidemic in the mid-1990s. Now, HIV/AIDS cases are reported regularly but it is endemic because all societies/countries have agreed to it being an acceptable risk.

Why one should consider Covid-19 as endemic?

New diseases usually do not disappear completely. Chikungunya, dengue and many respiratory viruses usually stay within populations once they enter a population.

Twenty-nine months into the pandemic, there is consensus that SARS-CoV-2 will stay with humanity for long, possibly for years and even decades.

The risk of infection and disease under COVID-19, till early 2022, was unknown, and the outcome unpredictable. Two and half years into the pandemic, the risk of getting COVID-19 continues and will always be greater than zero.

But the risk of the social and economic impacts due to COVID-19 is minimal and close to zero. In such a backdrop, one can conclude that while the health challenges of SARS-CoV-2 remain, the socio-economic impact is blunted. Hence, one can conclude the COVID-19 pandemic in India has moved to its endemic stage.

Read more: One billion Covid Vaccines and beyond – Explained, pointwise
Is the Covid-19 pandemic over throughout the world?

No, in epidemiology and public health, context (local setting, infection rate and vaccine coverage) determines the disease spread. Every country would reach an endemic stage at different points of time.

Countries that had higher vaccination coverage and higher natural infection (such as India) are likely to reach that stage early. Countries with low natural infection and vaccination coverage (as in Africa) would reach an endemic stage a little later.

Read more: Is Covid-19 now endemic in India?
What should be done?

In June-July 2022, around 30 deaths are being reported every day on average in people who tested COVID-19. In India, an estimated 26,000 to 27,000 people die every day due to a variety of reasons. The government should take every effort to avoid any death that is preventable.

COVID-19 is one of the many challenges and cannot continue to be the top and the only health priority. So, it is time to deal with the COVID-19 just like any other health condition and integrate COVID-19 interventions into general health services.

People should undertake voluntary precautionary measures. COVID-19 vaccination should become part of the routine immunisation programme.

Read more: Explained: When does a disease become endemic?
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