It’s been a year already, and the world is still under the tight grip of COVID-19.
2020 was a year marked by fear and apprehension. As all possible efforts to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic still continued, the news of new, and potentially even more infectious variants of the virus came from the United Kingdom and South Africa, causing widespread concern about a resurgence across the globe.
The keyword right now among all this is - HOPE - the expectation for things to get better.
Vaccine developments are coming in as a ray of sunshine, but are we looking away from reality? How will the year 2021 truly be? Will we be able to resume our normal activities and get back to life as it was before the virus struck?
FIT spoke to experts for a much-needed reality check. According to them, we may have to hold our horses before making any plans for 2021 - because we would still have to be cautious and safe next year.
Dr Shahid Jameel, Virologist and Director, Trivedi School of Biosciences at Ashoka University, tells us:
“The vaccine is expected to begin to be used worldwide in 2021. Talking about India, in the first 6-7 months, the plan is to give the vaccine to only 300 million people initially. These will include healthcare workers, frontline workers, people with comorbidities. In a country with a population of 138 crore, 30 crore people will get the vaccine, which is a good thing. But is it enough? Definitely not. We will still have to take precautions.”Dr Shahid Jameel
Updates and developments surrounding the novel coronavirus, the vaccines and the new variants are coming in so rapidly - that making an assessment of what the next year would look like becomes difficult. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in reference to the US, “I would think as we get through April and May, we likely would have [enough doses] for those who want to get vaccinated, the overwhelming majority of the people who want to get vaccinated.”
It is clear that even though we are hearing positive news about the vaccine, covering the entire population will be a mammoth and challenging task which would take time.
In conversation with FIT, Dr Arvinder Singh Soin, Chairman, Liver Transplant at Medanta says,
“The Government of India has not yet announced which vaccine the people will get. Pfizer vaccine has been approved in Britain but India has not placed its orders. Trials for other vaccine candidates are still going on here. AstraZeneca-Oxford’s vaccine and Bharat Biotech’s indigenous Covaxin are frontrunners in India. But their trials are also going on and the safety numbers have not yet reached DCGI. ”Dr Arvinder Singh Soin
Moving on from vaccines, the year 2020 has taught us lessons on lowering our expectations, being more vigilant, and changing our behavior. Social distancing, use of masks, and adherence to hand hygiene became the rule. So will we get rid of all this in 2021?
Health experts are clear with this answer: No.
“Common people will have to wait long for the vaccine. They will not get the vaccine before we are at least six months into 2021. Therefore, it is obvious that we will have to follow all necessary precaution.”Dr Arvinder Singh Soin
So Does This Mean We Cannot Spend Time With Our Families and Loved Ones?
Dr Shahid Jamil tells us that the close family is like a bubble. We are aware of each other’s activities and can know where one person is going or whom they are meeting. This is a controlled environment, so there is no need to worry too much. But if you meet people about whom you do not have all this information, it is better to wear your mask.
Can I Travel Abroad in 2021?
Although this is a personal choice, we must only try and travel when absolutely necessary.
“We should restrict our travels because the state of infection in different regions is not uniform. Cases are rising in some countries but coming down in others. This is the case even within a nation - with some states or cities witnessing worse outcomes than others,” Dr Arvinder Singh Soin explains.
Will the Changes in the Virus Lead to More Outbreaks in the Future?
Dr Jameel reminds us that mutations are a part of a virus’ life cycle and are bound to happen. What happened in the UK was expected. The more we bring down transmission, the lesser chances the virus will get to mutate. But we must understand that this is normal, and we cannot control a natural phenomenon such as virus mutations.
Dr Soin cautions that till at least 60-70% of the population is not vaccinated and herd immunity is not attained, there will always be the chance of more outbreaks. Therefore, vaccination drives will have to be sped up.
What Should We Expect from 2021?
Yuval Noah Harari, historian and author of ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ said at a BBC program in April that the humankind has all that is needed to stop this pandemic - and we are at a much better position than we were in the medieval ages.
We know what is happening, we know why people are dying, and we know what to do about it, he added.
Dr Jameel also tells us that we should not give up hope. We need to look at the bright side and acknowledge the improvement we have seen since July. Vaccines, which normally take 5-10 years, are already in use within a year. This has only strengthened our trust in science - it is important we maintain it.
Similarly, Dr Soin reminds us that what makes 2021 starkly different from 2020 is the kind of knowledge we now have about the virus. We know how it infects people, what it can do to their health, and how patients should be managed. These were things we were still figuring out even eight months into 2020.
In conclusion, while we are at a better place than we were early into the pandemic, we must not forget that COVID-19 is still here. “Vaccine is not the answer to all our problems. For now, we will have to be cautious. We have to live with the virus in 2021 as well. But we can hope that in two years, vaccines can help control it to a great extent,” says Dr Jameel.
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