THE FESTIVE SEASON CHALLENGE
The daily number of active cases is falling, but with the festive season upon us, India is bracing itself for a second wave
For the last couple of days, officials at the ministry of health and family welfare have been breathing a bit easier. Following months of dealing with significant shortages–of beds, doctors and educated personnel– keeping up with shape-shifting Covid symptoms, remedies that seemed to work and then not, and also the challenges of contact tracing in a country of more than a billion individuals, the Covid curve has, at long last, begun its decline. From its all-time large of 97,000 daily events on September 11, India logged 63,000 cases on October 13, down further to 45,000 on October 19.
But, doctors and bureaucrats are cautious of ancient parties. With European nations like France, Italy and the UK witnessing another wave, it’s feared the forthcoming festive season could undo the current earnings in India. In his televised address to the nation on October 20,Prime Minister Narendra Modi issued a reminder that although busy instances were on a drop, the virus was still very much here and people would drop their shield at great danger to themselves and their households, particularly the elderly among them. That note of caution is especially important for the upcoming festive season, together with reports of heedless overcrowding in public areas coming in from various areas of the country. Kerala, that has been the first Indian state to have overcome its first wave of Covid, is an example of the way complacency and public apathy can send numbers skyrocketing again. During Onam festival, the country entered the top five in terms of busy Covid instances (it is now at number three with 92,000 active cases, as on October 20). With the festive season upon us, people in various states are stepping out in large numbers to celebrate. Seeing this trend, hospitals have started preparations for a possible second wave.
“We are worried about the festive season and winter. Thus far, we don’t understand how the cold weather and increase in pollutants in certain countries will impact the spread of Covid,” says Dr B.L. Sherwal, manager of Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality Hospital in Delhi, including that about 500 beds have been added and another 650 ordered from the hospital.
LNJP has also started stocking up on medical supplies, such as two controversial drugs–remdesivir and hydroxychloroquine. According to current WHO (World Health Organization) trials, the two medications have little impact on reducing death and ventilation rates. However, they stay on India’s clinical management protocol also, in the absence of any guaranteed option, continue to be administered to patients.
There’s not been any reliable prediction of what a second wave in India could be like in terms of numbers. A committee formed by the department of science and technology reported that although there’s a reduction in instances, the second wave might be bigger if rules about wearing masks and social distancing are not followed. Manindra Agrawal, a part of this committee and professor at IIT Kanpur, says flouting Covid protocol could see the number going from the current 700,000-odd active instances to 2.5 million at a month’s time and deaths may treble. However, in addition, it noted that if we were to continue our current trajectory, amounts could fall into 20,000 instances by February 2021.
Another expert committee, led by NITI Aayog member (Health) Dr V.K. Paul, which filed its report to the Delhi government on October 18, noted that hospitals in the funds, that are visiting 1,500 to 3,000 cases per day, must prepare for a daily influx of 15,000 instances. The report also mentioned four chief reasons why the town must remain vigilant: 1) winter months normally aggravate respiratory disorders; 2) that a large number of patients will likely arrive from outside Delhi; 3) instances from distant areas are likely to be more serious; 4) the festive season. “Cold weather may possibly mean that the virus will endure for more on surfaces. It might also increase the intensity of the disease when coupled with air pollutants,” states Dr Rajesh Chawla, a pulmonologist with Apollo Hospitals in Delhi. The WHO, too, has advised countries to prepare for another tide as winter approaches.
Add to this the multiplier effect of festive gatherings. Despite dire warnings from public health officials, markets in Kolkata, for example, watched the same-old crowds witnessed every year at the run-up to Durga Puja, the city’s biggest festival. There is a bit of despair in the manner that people are trying to reclaim their’ordinary’ lives. The Calcutta High Court announced puja pandals to be”no-entry zones” on October 19 to avoid overcrowding, but individuals who have traditionally held pujas within their houses are moving ahead with programs. “Our family has hosted the goddess for 3 generations now and we do not intend to stop this year.
Yet, such precautions are not sufficient for if individuals are in a celebratory mood and their protector, and at times masks, are reduced. For example, during Onam, Sebastian Mathew, a 40-year-old textile trader from Kochi, and his wife threw a massive family feast. The whole collecting wore masks but tested positive that a week later. Mathew recalls that perhaps the”masks weren’t always worn correctly. We did not think that it would matter but it did.” . All these’super-spreader’ events trigger concern. A recent survey in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh surveyed 85,000 people and found that only 8 percent accounted for over 60 per cent of cases registered in both of these states.
“It requires only one person to turn into a super-spreader. So, we must continue to mandate the proper use of masks and social distancing,” states Dr Sherwal. With states like Maharashtra and Goa continued to enroll alarming Covid infectivity rates (the number of individuals found to be Covid positive from every 100 tested)–19.6 percent and 14.4 percent, respectively, as on October 20–we could ill afford to take the Covid hazard lightly.