While the nation is struggling in its efforts to fight the second wave of the COVID-19, virology Expert Shahid Jameel quit the Centre’s Genome Mapping Group. Given the fact that the consortium was created for continuous identification of the mutating strains of the SARS-CO-V-2 virus in India, Jameel’s exit may be a big blow to the nation’s efforts to curb the chain of transmission through scientific evidences.

Background

In late December 2020, the Centre had set up the INSACOG (Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genome Sequencing Consortia), a group of experts that were tasked for continuous surveillance of the COVID-19 strains in India. This group was led by Shahid Jameel, a virology expert. Over the course of his tenure as the group’s head, Shahid had remained outspoken about his criticism on the BJP-ruled Centre and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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Details

A few weeks after criticizing the PM Modi-led govt’s mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic in The New York Times, prominent virology expert Shahid Jameel announced his exit from the Centre’s Genome Mapping Group as its chairman.

After his exit, Jameel confirmed the development but also did not cite an official reason to various news publications. He was quoted by the Reuters saying, “It’s correct and I shall have nothing more to say. I am not obliged to give a reason.”

Variants B.1.617 & B.1.1.7 responsible for the second wave

Jameel in his New York Times article said how the virus has been mutating around the new year and has thus become all the more infectious and transmissible. According to sequencing data, the 2 variants that have been responsible for the second wave of the pandemic is the B.1.617 which spread through mass events and B.1.1.7 which spread because of international travelers that entered India from UK.

Multiple estimates of COVID-19 case peaks

According to estimates by the Indian govt, the wave peaked at about 3,80,000 new cases per day that transpired in the first week of this month. However, another group of scientists predicted that the cases will peak at 5,00,000-6,00,000 cases per day. The most alarming number comes from the University of Michigan which estimated the cases to peak in Mid-May with around 8,00,000-10,00,000 new cases per day.

Testing slower than found cases

According to Mr. Jameel, the data shows the fact that the testing is increasing at a relatively slower rate than the cases which could in consequence mean that India may not be able to measure the peak in an accurate manner. If the testing remains slow, the cases will plateu not because the peak has been achieved, but because the testing will be so less.

Mr. Jameel’s insight on India’s vaccination drive

The top-virology expert in his New York Times column also shared his perspective on India’s vaccination drive. According to Jameel, the country began its vaccination with a plan to inoculate around 300 million people in multiple phases. However, by March 15 only 15 million doses were administered which covered only 1% of the country’s population. Mr. Jameel said that the vaccination drive was hampered by Indian leadership’s misleading claim of conquering the virus.

Only 0.58% of the country’s population vaccinated by mid may

During the onset of the second wave, only 2.4% of the country’s population had received 1 dose of the vaccination and only 7 million people had received both doses which is just 0.58% of the country’s population. While the Centre did announce that everyone above 18 will be eligible to be vaccinated in May, several states reported shortages and the vaccination pace has even slowed down. Mr. Jameel said that although supplies will start stabilizing in the coming months, it will not reverse the impact of the infection.

Increase testing, create temporary facilities, onboard retired medical professionals

Mr. Jameel’s suggestion on the matter in the column was that India should increase testing and isolating those who test positive. He also said that India should start creating makeshift temporary facilities for COVID-19 patients and start bringing on board retired medical professionals.

He also suggested that India must increase the pace of vaccination drive. This suggestion is similar to what Dr. Fauci, the advisor to President Biden had. Mr. Jameel said that India must vaccinate at least 7.5-19 million persons every day. He also said that only 50,000 vaccination centers are there in India and the nation must increase the number.

Scientists are facing “stubborn resistance to evidence-based policy making”

In closing, Mr. Jameel said that professionals and scientists are of the similar opinions but have been facing “stubborn resistance to evidence-based policy making”.  “The human cost we are all enduring will leave a permanent scar”, wrote Mr. Jameel.