COVID-19 Second Wave In India Threatens To Overtake The First Pandemic Peak!

The fear has always been there about the Pandemic not saying quits in a hurry, be it in India or in the US or in Europe or anywhere. Yet, people, even governments, everywhere have been loath to carry on with the COVID-19 protocols and appropriate behavior. India, after the United States, has been marked out in this care-a-hoot mentality. And both of these countries are suffering heavily, apart from others where new Corona variants have created more havoc than inappropriate behavior. New daily cases of COVID-19 have been rising exponentially in at least eleven states of India since mid-March 2021. Personally speaking, when I left Mumbai in that period for domestic reasons daily cases in Maharashtra, the worst affected state, were around 6000-8000 and in the financial capital daily cases were hovering around 1000 per day. And now, new cases have reached nearly 50000 in the last twenty-four hours in Maharashtra while in Mumbai daily new cases have crossed 9000 in the last twenty-four hours, the figures beating all previous highs of the 2020-pandemic in the last few days. In India, daily new cases have in the last twenty-four hours are 93249 which is just 4000 less than the pandemic peak reached, at last, in mid-September 2020. Fatality figures are also back to October 2020 levels nationally almost half of which are observed in Maharashtra, consistently. The situation continues to be grim in Karnataka, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and the national capital Delhi where, possibly, the third was is taking place.


There are two schools of thought of experts for this exponential rise: one believes that the rising trend is entirely due to COVID inappropriate behavior of the public; the second wants to ascribe it to the new UK, South Africa or the Brazil variants that have proved to be much more contagious than the basic virus. Both of the schools of thought are right, but in a practical sense we need to combine both.


One significant fact emerges in support of the first which is that more than 90% of new cases in Mumbai have reportedly been shown to originate in the high-rise societies. Personally speaking again, I had seen how the upwardly mobile people of these societies had come out, as if with a vengeance, after the gradual unlocking of the city; there had been family get-togethers from flat to flat and all the parties in halls/hotels including weddings that had been pending for at least six months. And this case should apply to all major urban centres of the country. Another striking fact as said by experts is that the younger generation is leading the charge in spreading the virus which is understandable due to the gradual reopening of schools/colleges/universities, and the fact of their overconfidence in believing that the virus would not adversely impact their robust health which propels them to wave off the norms, not even caring to wear the masks. They, however, fail to understand that the clever virus acts differently in different bodies and that they can or are taking the virus back to their homes, infecting the elderly in the families or putting their health at grievous risk.


There is, however, a bit of a controversy in the second: national experts have been trying to downplay the new variants referring to what they call insignificant numbers of infections; but the local authorities of the worst-affected cities/states and their medical fraternity emphasize the new variants in being super-spreaders. They say that they have found ample proof in support of their views.


While nobody can deny that the situation in India is indeed alarming with many experts saying that the year 2021 could also go to the pandemic before near-normalcy is restored, the Government of India has been caught in some sort of a dilemma: although it has been appealing to people to maintain strict norms, it cannot afford to be too demanding thanks to the assembly elections raging in five states. Well, one cannot possibly practice double standards too obviously; ordering the masses to maintain the strictest possible norms in some states while the ruling party’s top leaders, followed in letter and spirit by the opposition leaders, go on inviting the crowds in hundreds of thousands to attend their poll rallies. And, they cannot afford to postpone the elections either, in spite of the fact that huge public rallies have contributed to a rising trend in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and lately Assam too.


Secondly, lockdown is being seen the last resort thanks to the devastation it has brought in its wake to the country in the year called 2020, and still suffering. The government of Maharashtra has been forced to leave it for the discretion of the public to adhere to strict norms or get ready for one more lockdown, although it has imposed partial lockdowns in several districts and strict and increasingly stricter protocols in Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur. Of course, in a positive note, lockdown can actually be deferred indefinitely in view of the already-achieved preparedness and much better medical infrastructure in most of the affected states.


What then is the solution? As far as the cleverest SARS-Cov-2 virus with its constant mutation is concerned, the challenge is very great, and in extremely congested countries like India it is well-nigh impossible. We have thus always maintained that vaccination is the ultimate solution and the Indian authorities have also realized this fact: vaccination being opened up for all above the age of 45, irrespective of the comorbidities, from the 1st of April 2021. But unfortunately, doubts still linger in the minds of people about the possible severe side-effects, deaths in some cases, after vaccination and the efficacy standards concerned. It is extremely unfortunate too that only about half of the health workers, including treating doctors and nurses, in India have opted to be inoculated so far, and their vaccination option now being stopped to make more doses available to the larger public. The present scenario is not helped either by several European nations deciding not to continue with the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine for its supposed impact on blood clotting. However, the United Kingdom has appealed to all to continue taking this vaccine, because of its possible side-effects in terms of blood clots is seen to be overweighed by its immense benefits.


At the moment two vaccines, Covishield (the Indian version of the Oxford AstraZeneca) and indigenously produced Covaxin, are doing the rounds, with the respective efficacies of around 70 per cent. The speed of the inoculation drive is still lagging behind the desired goal. It is imperative that the Government start considering more and more vaccines for approval so that the whole of the Indian population get the chance to be vaccinated. The Government must too publish transparency data on a regular basis to show the side-effects of the vaccines, to clear the doubts and explain the deaths supposedly triggered by vaccination.


As for the 1.35 billion population of the country, they must realize one simple fact: an efficacy rate of 70% means that at least 30 out of every 100 people may still get the infection even after taking the full doses which means that vaccination is not the end of the road for prevention, they must continue to follow the norms as far as possible: to wear the masks a habit, avoid large gathering or parties and continue with the work-from-home or online-class protocols. Further, it’s still early days for the vaccines and much is to be researched as to its possible long-term immunogenicity. As for the Government/governments more sanity would be expected once the polling ends on the 29th of April 2021, results declared on 2nd May 2021 and respective  state governments installed.


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