White House Chief Medical Adviser Dr Anthony Fauci on Monday suggested that the Indian government should opt for a countrywide lockdown and ramp up the mass vaccination drive to tackle the second wave of the pandemic.
His comments come in the backdrop of India’s Covid-19 cases breaching the 33-lakh march. On Sunday, the country logged 3,68,147 new infections as the total caseload surged to 99,25,604.
Registering a steady increase, the active cases have increased to 34,13,642 comprising 17.13 per cent of the total infections, while the national Covid-19 recovery rate stands at 81.77 per cent.
Many states and cities such as Punjab, Jharkhand and Delhi also reported a record number of fatalities as the second wave of the pandemic continues to sweep India.
Amid these developments, Fauci also suggested that the Indian government should construct a large number of makeshift hospitals to deal with the excessive patient inflow.
“It is quite obvious to everyone that the situation in India is extremely serious," Dr Fauci, who is considered one of the world’s top infectious disease specialists, told PTI in an interview.
“When you have so many people getting infected…the lack of the capability to take adequate care of everyone; when you have shortages of hospital beds and oxygen and shortages of supplies, that really becomes a very desperate situation. Which is the reason why we feel it's important for the rest of the world to help out, to the extent they can,” Dr Fauci said.
Keeping a close tab on developments in India, given that US President Joe Biden has geared up the administration to help India, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said there are certain things that India can do immediately, mid-term and long-term basis.
“First of all right now, they should start getting as many people vaccinated as they possibly can, with both the vaccines that they develop themselves in India as well as supplies of vaccines that they may be able to procure from other suppliers, be that the United States, be that Russia… whatever country is willing whenever companies are willing to supply vaccine,” Dr Fauci said.
However, getting someone "vaccinated now" does not solve today's problem, he noted, adding that it helps prevent a problem several weeks from now.
"But the solution immediately right now is, and I know India is already doing it, so I'm not telling you something that you are not already doing. A few days ago, I recommended and I believe at least parts of India are doing it, that you shut down the country in lockdown,” he said.
"Because other countries, including for example what China did last year, what Australia did when they had an outbreak, what New Zealand did, what other countries did is to completely lock down for a relatively limited period of time. You don't have to lock down for six months. You can lock down for a few weeks.
Because when you walk down, it is well known, with the experience of other countries that locking down, definitely interferes with the dynamics of the viral outbreak and you could interfere with the continuity and the transmission of infection," Dr Fauci said.
He also recommended taking the help of the armed forces to immediately build makeshift field hospitals.
"You will recall, last year when China had a very serious problem, they marshalled their resources to very, very rapidly build new hospitals, to be able to handle all the people who required hospitalisation," he said.
Referring to media reports, he said there is a drastic shortage of hospital beds and people are being taken care of in makeshift arrangements.
"So, it would be possible, perhaps, with the help of your own military, to put up field hospitals as you would do as if in a war time setting, so that people who are sick and require a hospital bed, will have a hospital bed," he said.
Perhaps, the Indian government is already doing that, he noted.
Dr Fauci said the world can help by supplying India with materials and perhaps even personnel that they need to adequately address it.
For example, the United States is supplying oxygen cylinders, concentrators and generation units, he said.
Dr Fauci said India often helps other countries in emergency situations.
"Given the fact that India is under such terrible stress right now with the extent of the outbreak, the rest of the world should pitch in to help them, similar to what the United States is doing," he said.
"We are very sorry that India is going through this very, very difficult time," he said.