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COVID-19: When another virus surge is to be expected in Kyrgyzstan

Coronavirus infection cases continue to decline in Kyrgyzstan. Less than 100 new cases are reported daily. Such figures have been last seen in March, before another surge. Growth may start again in the second half of November. 24.kg news agency talked with a public health specialist, director of the Public Health Program of the Soros Foundation — Kyrgyzstan, a member of the independent forecasting group Aibek Mukambetov about possible development of the situation.

— Your previous forecast hit the mark, then you said that 1,571 COVID-19 patients would be detected daily by July 2 under a pessimistic scenario.

— Yes, we predicted up to 1,500-2,000 infected per day, but there might have been those, who were not included in the reports. There is an underestimation of the incidence rate even in the countries, where testing is conducted on a large scale. The situation is the same in Kyrgyzstan, we can say that we did not detect all cases.

The main thing for our healthcare system is to withstand the influx of patients even at the peak of the incidence rate.

Aibek Mukambetov

Separate hospitals, intensive care beds, intensive care units were opened, and reserve personnel were involved. There were no such cases, when someone was refused hospitalization due to lack of beds. The doctors quickly mobilized, the government, the Ministry of Health heeded the forecasts, deployed beds. Naturally, not without losses.

— Do you already have a new forecast? When the next surge is expected?

— I would like to clarify a little. Our research team is engaged in mathematical modeling. According to our calculations, the next surge and a more or less tense epidemiological situation will be observed at the end of the year, around November. This wave will pass smoothly with some descent into the next rise in January next year.

— What figures do you use for your modeling?

— Our model is mathematical one. It is based on figures. The model took into account many factors last year. We entered all the official statistics of the Ministry of Health (incidence, mortality), data on the parameters of the functionality of our health care system (the number of medical ventilators, beds, intensive care units, and etc.), parameters related to basic information on the epidemic itself, which were collected around the world, and those that influence the course of the epidemic (movement of the population, compliance with non-pharmaceutical anti-epidemic measures, and etc.) into it. We have used an additional parameter — vaccination — this year. Our group has simulated how an effective, rapid vaccination campaign could influence the course of the epidemic in Kyrgyzstan this year.

Since the vaccination campaign actually began in July, it practically did not influence the third wave. If 80 percent of the population over 65 and about 20-30 percent at the age between 20 and 64 is vaccinated by the end of the year, it could reduce mortality by 20-25 percent. In addition, in this case, the health care system’s load will be significantly reduced in November and January next year.

We say in our findings that vaccination is effective for reduction of mortality and hospitalization in severe condition. This has been proven. There are no other data in the world.

Aibek Mukambetov

— Will the emergence of new strains lead to an unpredictable surge?

— We hope that subsequent strains will behave in approximately the same way in the context of the effect of vaccines on the virus. Many experts, doctors, healthcare organizers around the world feared that with the advent of the delta strain in their states, a general epidemic would begin and a large cohort of dying, even among the vaccinated, would appear, there would be many hospitalizations in serious condition to the intensive care units. That did not happen. Yes, effect of the vaccines in prevention of the disease is different for alpha and delta strains. The most important conclusion that was made is that vaccines nevertheless helped the vaccinated to form an immune response that allows them not to get to hospitals in serious condition, not to die. These figures are roughly comparable for these two types of strains.

Accordingly, the main conclusion remains the same. We get vaccinated not for 100% protection from infection, but in order not to die, to avoid hospitalization in a serious condition.

Aibek Mukambetov

— Why do the people, in your opinion, unwillingly get vaccinated and wear masks? Are they tired?

— On the one hand, yes, they are tired of this topic. They no longer perceive it as something catastrophic. This is not only about Kyrgyzstan. The same thing is happening in other countries of the world. People are so tired of these norms, social distancing, mask requirements, and restrictive measures that there are already protest reactions and movements in European states.

Secondly, there is some mistrust in Kyrgyzstan, both regarding the vaccination campaign in general, and regarding the vaccines themselves. This mistrust is based, I think, on the lack of clear and understandable information that is broadcast from all platforms. In general, this is, probably, due to several factors.

One of them is a total distrust of government bodies, including healthcare-related campaigns.

Aibek Mukambetov

The late start of a full-fledged information campaign on vaccination also had its impact.

The last — a lot of negative information is spread on the Internet, social media, instant messengers. This infodemic also influenced perception of the vaccination campaign. But I think that the government will be able to cover the baseline figures, and this can contribute to a smoother passage of the autumn-winter waves, as it was in November last year.