ICMR chief Dr Balram Bhargava said has said that it is difficult to predict whether or not India will see a second wave of infections and there will be smaller peaks at different times due to varied geography of the country.
In an exclusive interview with ANI, Prof Dr Bhargava also said that the situation was rapidly evolving and there have been immense variations in spread of infection and mortality rates in different geographies and across different demographics around the world.
"SARS-CoV-2 is a novel virus. There is still a lot we don't know about it. We have also seen immense variations in the spread of infection and mortality rates in different geographies and across different demographics around the world. So, it is difficult to predict whether or not India will see a second wave of infections. There is also a wide variation in disease distribution in specific states - so one size cannot fit all," he said.
The Director-General of India Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said apart from the scientific inputs, full participation of all citizens is essential to overcome the COVID-19 challenge.
"Due to the varied geography of our nation, there would be smaller peaks at different times. The situation is rapidly evolving, and we will continue to monitor it. However, it is pertinent that people follow preventive measures like social distancing, use of masks and hand hygiene. The right intervention approach, the scientific input and full participation of all citizens and communities is essential to overcome the "COVID-19 challenge" he said.
Dr Bhargava, a key scientist involved in monitoring the situation in the country, said, "ICMR has been monitoring this disease since January 2020 and its lab at the National Institute of Virology is also amongst the first few in the world to completely isolate the virus to learn more about its characteristics and lay the groundwork for finding a potential cure."
Asked how ICMR will tackle any future threat of virus, Dr Bhargava said that even before COVID-19 struck, ICMR had set up a platform with other 10 South East Asian countries to conduct collaborative research on emerging diseases.
"We have been at the forefront of tackling diseases like Nipah, Zika and other emerging infections," he said, adding that "three Ds - Data, Development and Delivery" are at the core of tackling any public health crisis.
"Data is important to make evidence-based decisions for interventions and in policymaking. Development of innovative tools that can drive innovation in the public health space is also critical. For instance, the indigenously developed, rapid and highly accurate ELISA test is helping the country to detect the extent of coronavirus spread in the country. Finally, delivery needs to be strengthened to ensure that these interventions reach the beneficiary," he said.
Dr Bhargava said ICMR has been continually ramping up testing capacity since the beginning of the pandemic.
"We started with less than 100 tests per day near the beginning of the pandemic and today we have the capacity of testing over 5 lakh samples a day with labs set up even at 18,000 feet in Ladakh. ICMR has crossed the milestone of 2,02,02,858 tests and we are now the country with 4th highest number of tests conducted globally," he said.
ICMR has also written to private and government medical colleges to increase testing for the virus and it will support these institutions to get the required infrastructure and training for testing, he said.
ICMR recently set up three new state-of-the-art testing facilities in Noida, Mumbai and Kolkata, which can increase testing capacity, reduce risk of exposure for lab technicians and decrease turn-around time.
"Over time, once the pandemic is controlled, these facilities can also be used for the testing of other diseases such as tuberculosis, Hepatitis B and C, HIV etc," Dr Bhargava said.