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Ajay Singh Yadav only made one final video call with Raj Karan before his close friend became the youngest of an alarming number of young Indians, including children, to fall victim to the new wave of coronavirus that swept the country.
Some doctors say the reason children under 45 are now at risk is because they go to work and eat out more, but there is no definitive evidence.
They could also be more prone to a new “double mutant” variant found in 60 percent of the samples in Maharashtra, the hardest-hit state.
38-year-old Karan was fighting in the village elections when he fell ill. Yadav took him to a hospital, but he too tested positive and was isolated.
“I’m devastated … I could only see him on video call,” 39-year-old Yadav told AFP in the northern city of Lucknow.
The nation of 1.3 billion has been hit by a new wave that caused a million positive tests in a week, and authorities are rocked.
Earlier this year, India believed it had overcome the pandemic and launched a mass vaccination campaign.
Face masks and social distancing were thrown aside and huge crowds flocked to religious festivals and election campaigns.
In hospitals, however, doctors warned of a surge in cases, including a new phenomenon – younger patients – for a disease that is usually considered riskier for older adults.
Children in the hospital
Concern about the impact on youth is growing in a country where around 65 percent of the population is under 35 years of age.
New Delhi’s Prime Minister Arvind Kejriwal said 65 percent of new patients are under 45 years old.
India’s medical research agency doesn’t have a demographic breakdown of the cases, but doctors in major cities confirmed that more young patients are entering hospitals.
“We are also seeing children under the age of 12 and 15 enter the second wave with symptoms. There were virtually no children last year,” said Khusrav Bajan, an advisor at PD Hinduja National Hospital in Mumbai and a member of Maharashtra’s COVID-19 task force .
In Gujarat state, pulmonologist Amit Dave said young people had “increased severity” of the coronavirus to their lungs, hearts and kidneys.
A hospital in Gujarat has set up the state’s first pediatric coronavirus ward.
States across India have reported a similar increase in young patients.
In the southern IT center of Bangalore, those under 40 made up 58 percent of infections at the beginning of April, compared to 46 percent in the previous year, according to the data aggregator COVID19india.org.
Variants and vaccines
“I haven’t seen the same spike in cases in the past year as last week,” said Delhi-based book publicist Tanu Dogra, 28, who was bedridden for a week after testing positive in March, according to AFP.
“Everyone on my timeline, on my WhatsApp, is desperately sharing messages because they all tested positive.”
In Brazil, which, like the rest of the world, had more severe cases and deaths in the elderly during the first wave, there is also a higher prevalence of younger patients among doctors.
Experts say more data is needed to substantiate the anecdotal evidence in India, with genome sequencing of samples playing a key role.
“The sequencing will inform you of the resulting mutant,” added virologist Shahid Jameel.
“But it doesn’t take away everything you should be doing – that is, wear a mask and avoid crowded places.”
Authorities imposed lockdowns and curfews over the weekend to contain the spread of the virus.
However, medical professionals say India’s sluggish vaccination campaign – currently limited to those over 45 – should also be open to everyone.
Their reputation was vindicated by young Indians in Delhi who told AFP they felt more exposed when going to work, many as breadwinners for their families.
“Right now, young people (vaccines) need more … I see people in their early 30s being hospitalized every day,” 25-year-old pharmacist Muzammil Ahmed told AFP.
Given the congestion in hospitals, specialists like Venkat Ramesh, an infectious disease consultant at Apollo Hospital in Hyderabad, said the crisis was already “severe” and was getting worse.
“When I speak to my colleagues in large metropolitan areas across India, they have numerous calls from patients trying to find a bed,” Ramesh told AFP.
“I am very afraid of the next month. Given the rapid rise in cases, this is certainly worrying.”
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