The spiraling COVID-19 emergency in India should be thought of "like a war" and fought like one, including using the country's military, Dr. Anthony Fauci advises.
"You should think of this, in some respects, like a war," Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and President Joe Biden's chief medical adviser, told The Indian Express in an interview published Saturday. "The enemy is the virus. So you know where the enemy is, so I would make it almost like wartime because it's an emergency."
He suggested that the country "immediately" get military help "the way we, in the United States, have used our National Guard to help us distribute the vaccines. I think it should at least be seriously considered, to get hospitals built quickly."
Biden banned most travel to the U.S. from India beginning Tuesday as the Asian country is fights the worst surge of coronavirus cases in the world. On Thursday alone, India recorded 387,000 new infections, a record high, and reported nearly 3,500 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. U.S. aid flights began heading into India on Thursday.
An "immediate' shutdown for at least a few weeks could help end India's cycle of transmission while allowing the country to take critical steps to pull out of the emergency, Fauci, speaking from the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Md., told the publication.
"The one thing I don’t want to do and I hope it doesn’t turn out this way, is to get involved in any sort of criticism of how India has handled the situation because then it becomes a political issue and I don’t want to do that since I’m a public health person and I’m not a political person," he said."It just seems to me that, right now, India is in a very difficult and desperate situation."
Vaccinating must "absolutely" be done, he added, but that won't alleviate the immediate need for oxygen or hospitals, so it's important to take care of people now.
The United States has made a "major commitment" to India for oxygen, personal protective equipment and ventilators, but it's also time for other countries to help, because "India has been very generous in the past crises in helping other countries," said Fauci.
He added that COVID-19, when left to its own devices, will "explode in society" and that the United States was also hit with a crippling second surge of the disease.
"The United States, for a while, was the worst-hit country in the world and the United States is the richest country," said Fauci. "We were supposedly the best prepared and we got hit very badly. So you know, the reason is that the virus doesn’t care how rich you are. Or how advanced or developed you are. If you don’t respect its ability to cause serious damage, you are going to get into trouble."
He added that work must be done quickly to take specimens and material and to have them tested by the CDC, the NIH, and other groups worldwide to determine if the vaccines now in use will fight against variants of the disease.
He also called on India to take any route needed to get vaccine contracts, even coming from China and Russia.
Just 11% of people in Inda have gotten one dose of a COVID vaccine and 2% have been fully vaccinated, and Fauci said that means India has a long way to go before its people are protected.
"I would leave no stone unturned in getting as many companies as you possibly can to be able to make a contractual arrangement to get vaccines," said Fauci. "Also, India is the largest vaccine-producing country in the world. That’s the thing — you should rev up your own capabilities to make vaccines."
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