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Will COVID-19 become endemic in India?

COVID-19 cases have fallen considerably in India since their peak in mid-September of last year. However, India, as with many other countries, is reaching a fairly consistent low point that has had many speculating that the disease will not be eradicated but rather remain endemic in the country.

Stock Photo - Inscription COVID-19 on blue background. World Health Organization WHO introduced new official name for Coronavirus disease named COVID-19. COVID-19 outbreak concept. Image credit: nunataki / 123rf
Image credit: nunataki / 123rf

Delhi’s health minister Satyendar Jain said on March 7th that the COVID-19 pandemic is nearing the endemic phase and people will have to learn to live with it. This situation would place COVID-19 into a similar situation as the seasonal flu — never truly eradicated and always circulating to some extent, often with peaks corresponding to seasons. 

COVID-19 cases have largely hit a consistent rate in India over the prior weeks. However, in many areas there have been minor increases in cases. The rise has been attributed to a “lack of fear” of COVID-19, as termed by a three-member team (including Health Ministry joint secretary Nipun Vinayak) which visited Maharashtra earlier this month. Others have phrased the issue as “pandemic fatigue” — a problem arising globally due to the prolonged lockdown situation in many countries.

Such “pandemic fatigue” is occurring throughout many countries and could be a key factor in creating an endemic situation across the globe. As with many other diseases, vaccine hesitancy is another major hurdle to truly controlling the spread of the disease. 

There is a concern over variants from other countries causing a second wave to occur in India. As previously noted by Health Issues India, “the new variant first identified in the United Kingdom is thought to be more transmissible than previous strains. As such, there are concerns in India that COVID-19 variants could add to the country’s burden of disease as it pertains to COVID-19 amidst fears over rises in cases in multiple states and union territories.”

A key issue to COVID-19 being added to the list of endemic conditions in India is that the list is already over-saturated. At least fourteen conditions are already considered to be endemic in India. These include dengue fever, chikungunya, echinococcosis, kala-azar, leprosy, soil-transmitted helminthiases, taeniasis/cysticercosis, trachoma, foodborne trematodiases, lymphatic filariasis, rabies, snakebites, mycetoma, and scabies. 

This list, while extensive, is not all-encompassing. India contends with high figures of HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, diarrhoeal disease, food poisoning, and cholera, to name but a few. This is to say nothing of the rising tide of noncommunicable disease that has blighted India over the last few decades.

With COVID-19 looking likely to become endemic within India, the country’s already-limited healthcare budget is going to be stretched further. Investment in healthcare is going to be vital over the coming years to address the public health and broader socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19 thus far, as well as those yet to come.

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