'Things are going to get much worse before they get better' in India: Expert

·Senior Reporter
·3-min read

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The U.S. announced a travel ban from India for non-U.S. citizens as case counts in India continue to surge daily, setting new global records. India set a new record Friday with more than 386,000 cases reported and nearly 3,500 deaths.

But whether or not travel bans help is something experts have been debating since last year.

"I've never really seen travel bans really make much of an impact. A lot was made about the travel bans from China at the beginning of the United States' epidemic ... while the emphasis was on China, as the virus came in from Europe and caused that devastating outbreak in New York," said Dr. Peter Hotez, a top infectious disease expert and dean of Baylor College of Medicine's National School of Tropical Medicine.

Plus, enforcing such a travel ban is time-consuming, he said, and "can be very isolating and may make public health control even more problematic."

Meanwhile, calls for U.S. and European vaccine makers to share intellectual property with third parties to help increase global access amid India's surge have been increasing, as have demands for the U.S. to immediately release the tens of millions of AstraZeneca (AZN) doses it has but is unlikely to use — since three authorized vaccines are already available and in use. AstraZeneca isn't yet authorized in the U.S., but is authorized in the U.K. and Europe. 

U.S. officials recently said that 10 million doses were ready for release globally once a quality check is complete, potentially delaying the release for weeks. Additionally, up to 50 million doses are in some stage of production and will be subsequently released to the world.

More vaccines, less panic

In India, fear and panic have taken over, with emergency supplies scarce. A survival mentality is causing hoarding in some cases, which has kept necessary supplies from going where they need to be, according to Dr. Krutika Kuppalli.

"There has not been good communication from the national government and the state government. There's a lot of panic right now," Kuppalli told Yahoo Finance. 

"When people get COVID, they get very nervous and they run to the hospital. So that's been the number one thing. I think the second thing has also been that if people get admitted to the hospitals and they're on oxygen, if they get better, there's been a delay in getting people out of the hospital. So really moving people through the system has been a challenge," she added.

Union Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan downplayed the record-breaking case count Thursday and said instead that India's mortality rate ranks among the lowest in the world. The comment contradicts reporting of thousands of funeral pyres burning around the clock, and experts noting the death toll is likely severely undercounted.

"I unfortunately think that things are going to get much worse before they get better. If you look at some of the modeling data, they estimate that they're not going to hit their peak until the second week of May, and that's very concerning," Kuppalli said.

To help India, countries around the world have pledged to send the supplies most urgently needed, including protective gear, ventilators, oxygen supplies and rapid test kits.

A plan was announced Thursday to send U.S. supplies and equipment to help India make 20 million AstraZeneca doses, but that will hardly make a dent, Hotez said.

"That's a drop in the bucket," he said, noting that in order to help curb virus spread, the country of more than 1.8 billion will need to vaccinate at least 800 million to 900 million people. That equals about 2 billion doses, account for the two-dose regimen.

"I think we need to do a better job helping India," Hotez said.

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