Covid will start becoming endemic in India in the next six months, a top expert has said, asserting that a new variant can't alone bring a third wave of infections. "This pandemic has defied most of our predictions but in the next six months, we will approach endemic status," Sujeet Singh, the Director of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) told NDTV in an exclusive interview.
This means the infection will stay in the population but will be progressively easier to handle, like the flu.
Dr Singh said Covid becoming endemic would mean the infection becoming more manageable and easier on the health infrastructure.
"If the mortality and morbidity is under control, then we can manage the disease," he said, adding that Kerala, which had a large "susceptible pool" or people vulnerable to Covid, is also emerging from the raging crisis it was battling a few weeks ago.
Vaccination remains the biggest protection against the coronavirus, stressed Dr Singh.
"75 crore people have been vaccinated. If vaccine effectiveness is 70 per cent, then around 50 crore people in India have got immunity. A single dose gives 30-31% immunity. So the 30 crore people, who have received a single dose, are also immunised," he said.
The expert warned that even after vaccination, people must follow Covid-appropriate behaviour like masks and distancing. Breakthrough infections, or fully-vaccinated people getting infected, is bound to happen in 20-30 per cent cases, Dr Singh said.
"Breakthrough infections are also because of the new variants. Scientists say within 70 to 100 days of vaccination the immunity level starts dropping," he explained.
It is through more exposure to the virus and vaccination that the infections will taper off, Dr Singh said.
According to the health body chief, there is no new variant in India. The C1.2 and Mu strains that are currently raising concern have not been found in the country.
"Just a new variant cannot cause a third wave. The factor will be a mix of behaviour and antibodies. There is some worry because of the festival season," Dr Singh said.
Covid infections in India have been decreasing and have stayed below 30,000 daily in the past week.
Dr Singh's comments tie in with the prediction of World Health Organisation (WHO)'s Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan, who had said in an interview last month that Covid in India may be entering the endemic stage where the population learns to live with the virus, instead of being overwhelmed by it.
"We may be entering some kind of stage of endemicity where there is low level transmission or moderate level transmission going on but we are not seeing the kinds of exponential growth and peaks that we saw a few months ago," Dr Swaminathan had told The Wire.