From a sustained period where there was a countrywide fall in the number of active cases with the possible exception of Kerala during a particular phase the numbers over the past few days have thrown up an increase. The figures at the end of last week showed Maharashtra leading the pack with over 6,971 new confirmed cases against about 2,417 recoveries.
The corresponding figures in a clutch of other states also showed recoveries lagging fresh infections, for instance, Karnataka (386 to 291), Andhra Pradesh (79 to 77) Chhattisgarh (259 to 222) and Madhya Pradesh (297 to 250). At the same time, in many States where recoveries were greater than infections, the gap had considerably narrowed.
So, what exactly is happening here and why? The truth is that we don’t really know and it may be much too early and much too alarmist to talk about a second wave. At the same time, the data is worrying enough, and it is imperative to prevent further slippage by strictly implementing social distancing measures already in place. In Maharashtra, weekend curfews were enforced and the State’s Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has warned of a second lockdown if the numbers are not reined in soon. Although most States have fairly stringent rules to limit the coronavirus spread, the laxity in implementation is visible, most strikingly in the absence of enforcement in the use of masks. While some states are stricter in enforcement and even levy fines, others including Tamil Nadu, have been much too lenient in this regard.
In the face of the consistent decline in numbers before the recent spike, State governments appear to have been lulled into a false sense of security. The beginning of the roll-out of the vaccines is another reason for this complacency, which has been reinforced by speculative reports in both the Indian and the international media about the virus having been contained. Clearly, the last few days should jolt governments out of this sense of smugness.
Here are some facts. The so-called hope of herd immunity that many are banking on, had been ruled out for now as at least 80 per cent of the population needs to have antibodies for this to kick in. Adding to the chaos are the new strains of the virus that have surfaced. Maharashtra’s COVID task force has attributed the spike to a staggering 240 new strains of the virus, and these strains have been termed ‘highly transmissible and dangerous’ with the potential to re-infect which would further turn the herd immunity theory on its head.
Dr Randeep Guleria, Director of All India Institute of Medical Sciences has also cautioned that one can expect a slightly lower rate of efficacy from the vaccines, but the key to winning this battle if not to let one’s guard, or in this case mask, down. While people should not forget that the worst is far from over and continue to maintain COVID protocols, the government too must once again roll up its sleeves. Apart from stricter implementation of measures, with penalties for violators, what the country badly needs is a faster roll-out of the vaccine. We need to do this quickly as it is our best measure in halting the spread of a second outbreak.