To stop third wave, India has to mask up

With the slow pace of the government’s vaccination drive, this article talks about other active interventions and measures for the prevention of a third wave of COVID-19 infections.

  • The United States and Brazil have had three distinct waves.
  • The United Kingdom had a small first wave, after which the virus seemed to be disappearing. This was followed by two explosive waves, which only subsided after a lockdown and an aggressive vaccination campaign in which 95% of all those over the age of 50 have been vaccinated.
  • South Africa has also seen two waves.

Given the pattern, a second wave in India was almost a given. And once this wave recedes, it is highly likely that a third wave will build up, unless active measures are taken to stop it from building up. Now is the time to think ahead and find ways to prevent the next wave.

Vaccine as an option for preventing the third wave

  • Vaccines are the best option. However, this might not be the most feasible option to blunt either this or future waves due to:
    • The huge population of the country
    • The slow pace of vaccination
    • Inelastic vaccine supplies both in India and globally
    • Limited finances with State governments which have now been given the responsibility of vaccinating the bulk of the country’s population.

Methods that work

  • Along with vaccination, it is important to practise the full methods that have been shown to slow the spread of COVID-19 in different parts of the world: wearing a mask, physical distancing, hand hygiene and a ban on mass gatherings.
  • While these measures may not be as effective as mass vaccination, but in the absence of vaccines, they are perhaps the only way to reduce community transmission and slow the spread of the virus.
  • The near-universal adoption of nonmedical masks when out in public, in combination with complementary public health measures could reduce community spread, provided the measures are sustained.

Conventional wisdom in India has it that wearing a mask only works when it is imposed as a police measure. However, public health measures that work best are those that the people voluntarily adopt, drastically reducing transmission.