Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist of WHO says, “COVID-19 is here to stay”


Soumya Swaminathan, the Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization, asks the world to be better prepared and get used to living with coronavirus, as she warns that it “is here to stay”.

In a recent discussion, she clearly points out that nothing is going to change the situation overnight.

“We should plan and be mentally prepared for another two years of disciplined behavior as the vaccine for the virus gets scaled up,” said Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist, World Health Organization.

“We can be hopeful that there will be vaccines from the middle of the next year but, it will be in limited supplies. It will only go to high-risk people like frontline workers and health care workers followed by the elderly. We are at least two years from the entire population being able to get a vaccine,” she said speaking at SICCI-360, a monthly discussion organized with experts by the Southern India Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Globally, the virus is accelerating. The rate at which it is growing is faster than what was seen in the last few months. Currently, almost 3-lakh new infections are added every day.

The death toll has crossed the 1.1 million, and nearly 6,000 people die every day due to the virus. Both of these numbers are underestimates. Nearly 10 percent of the world’s population may be infected, she said.

It is important to know what works to restrict the spread of the virus. People often give up saying, that nothing can be done. This is not true. Keeping distance works and transmission occurs by close contacts. The virus spreads through droplets with larger ones traveling up to 6-ft, and the smaller ones can stay in the air for some time.

If someone is in a small place with lots of people or somebody infected laughing or singing, the tiny droplets can affect others even if the distance is maintained at 6-ft. This is called aerosol transmission that has been documented and occurs in some settings. But this is not a major amount of transmission, she said.

People need to avoid three Cs – close unventilated space (indoor); crowded places (like mass gatherings) and close physical contacts. This is what Japan did. The fourth C could be to identify clusters and shut them before they start spreading into the community. “This is what we need to keep doing. The responsibility is on the government and the citizens to do this for the foreseeable future,“ she said.