What We Don’t Know About Covid-19: Could Many of Us Have Already Recovered From It Unknowingly?


What We Don’t Know About Covid-19: Could Many of Us Have Already Recovered From It Unknowingly?

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

“Are we in the community transmission stage? Or are we not?” The million-dollar question has been posed multiple times since early May, for it changes how we look at the Covid-19 problem and our strategy to deal with it. Government officials insist we are not there yet, as has the World Health Organisation, that stated “India’s attack rate per 1,00,000 is lower than many countries.” However, the WHO hinted that such categorisation should be done at sub-national levels and not at a national level, since better interventions can be done locally.

A survey conducted by the ICMR could help weigh in on the issue. The first population based sero-survey conducted in India has revealed that one third of the population in many containment areas in hotspot cities may have already been infected by the virus and quietly recovered.

A sero-survey involves testing of blood serum of a group of individuals and this will be used to monitor trends in prevalence of the novel coronavirus, or SARS-COV-2, infection at the district level. Tests were conducted to find out the presence of “IgG antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 that appear 14 days after the infection and continue to be present in the blood serum for months,” the report said.

ICMR, along with the National Centre for Disease Control collected nearly 24,000 samples from 70 districts, including hotspot cities like Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Pune, Delhi.

“Barring two hotspot cities Surat and Kolkata and six other districts, we now have results from all other sites and it shows that infection size in many containment areas in the worst-hit districts is 100-fold to 200-fold higher than the cases reported at those sites,” an official privy to the survey report told The New Indian Express.

“What we have understood so far is that the infection is much more widespread than what is reflected by the reported cases in many cities and containment efforts may not have fully paid off,” he said. “In tier-II and III cities, on the other hand, the spread of the virus is minimal.” An official said that the infection size is 100 to 200 times higher in Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Ahmedabad, and Indore.

In a statement however, the ICMR dismissed the media reports. “The findings appeared in media related to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) serosurvey for Covid-19 are speculative and final results are being finalised,” it said in a statement, as reported by news agency ANI.

India is the fifth worst-hit nation by the Covid-19 pandemic with cases sharply rising over the last couple of weeks. Truthfully disclosing data and using scientific tools to frame policies is the only way forward in the battle against the coronavirus. Let’s hope we’ll be guided by science and not by our need to manage headlines.