COVID-19 Variants Linked to India’s Record Deaths: Very Little Masking, Huge Gatherings

Dr. Priya Sampathkumar, an infectious disease physician at the Mayo Clinic, explained to Democracy Now why COVID-19 is devastating India with one million new COVID-19 infections every three days:

So, India did very, very well with the first wave last year, compared to many other countries. And cases peaked and then came down fairly quickly, and then there’s been a plateau. So, cases have been occurring at a low level for several months. And the coronavirus has done what all viruses do. These viruses tend to mutate over time. And if they have, they accumulate enough mutations, they then behave differently, giving rise to what’s called a variant.

The India variant is now widely reported as being present in many parts of the country. And the other variant that’s also circulating in India is the U.K. variant. And between them, these two variants probably make up the majority of the virus that’s circulating. This virus behaves differently now, in that it’s much more infectious.

And it’s still not known whether it’s also perhaps causing more severe disease, causing disease but presents in different ways, and whether it is causing more deaths, simply because there’s not enough information. We need a lot more testing than is happening now, and not just regular testing of individual cases, but sequencing, to understand how the virus is mutating.

…So, there’s several reasons why the second wave is so widespread. First is, the variants are much more infectious. So, when there’s one case, there are many more people infected from that one case than from the original strain of the virus. The second thing is behaviors. People have completely relaxed their guard. In the last few months, there has been really very little masking in India and huge, huge gatherings. So, these have essentially been superspreader events, and the virus is now just raging across the country. So those are the two really big reasons.

As far as the death rate, even if this variant strain was not causing more deaths than before, the previous strain of the virus, the medical system is now completely overwhelmed. We know, from our own experiences in the United States, which is really, really resource rich compared to India — but when we had the surge in New York, what happened was there was a huge influx of cases into the hospitals. Hospitals are at their best when things are controlled and nurses and doctors can do everything they’ve been trained to do to take care of patients.

(Source: Democracy Now)

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