The current flood of reports about the second wave of COVID-19 cases in India is alarming and even scary.
What looked like that the spread of pandemic is not only under control but also receding till March 2021, has suddenly shot up during the second week of April. Vaccination to counter the spreading of COVID-19 could be launched in the country only in February due to logistics of manufacture and distribution of the vaccine. Even then, India has been almost the first to launch the vaccination.
About three lakh new cases a day have peaked by the week ending on April 25. Earlier, for the fourth consecutive day, the country had witnessed an addition of more than 2.5 lakh cases daily to its overall tally. Consequently by the end of the week about 17-18 lakh new cases have been added which is about 10 percent of India’s total COVID-19 tally.
From the onset of COVID-19 cases in India around January-end 2020, till April 18, 2021, about 15,300,000 people were reported to have been afflicted, 13,100,000 cases were reported to have recovered and 181,000 deaths were reported. These figures are against the world’s total of 141,000,000 cases of affliction, 84,400,000 cases of recovery and 3,010,000 cases of death.
During the 12 days preceding April 18, 2021, the average daily positivity rate had doubled from 8 percent to 16.7 percent. This rise of positive cases has been quite high though the increase of testing has been marginal.
At the government and institutional levels last year, India had been among the first few countries that had been the quickest to react and take steps to contain the spread of the pandemic. China notified the world on January 7, 2020 about the Wuhan virus. India had been quick to call for a mission meeting on January 8, 2020 itself. It had started screening passengers from January 17, 2020. The first case in India was reportedly detected on January 30, 2020 and aggressive containment and screening measures were initiated immediately. Also, India was among the first to introduce Rapid Antigen Tests along with RT-PCR tests.
India was criticized initially for this strategy, but the WHO itself has adopted this model and started promoting it the worldwide. Similarly, in large parts of India, wearing of masks had been made mandatory right from April 2020, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself wearing a mask in public since early April, while the WHO waited till June before recommending it to the world over.
Exactly a year ago while some countries were reporting high incidence of COVID-19 cases, India had already taken drastic preventive steps like strict observance of social distancing, compulsory wearing of masks, clampdown of prolonged and strict lockdown, curtailment of transport system and many other such preventive and control steps. Of course these steps have caused multiple and varied hardships for migrant workers and daily wage industrial workers. However, India earned then world accolades for ably controlling the spread of the pandemic.
During the last quarter of the year 2020 and the first three months of the year 2021, India had seen a welcome lull in the spread of the disease and the people started moving freely. India has also earned the distinction of being the first among the world countries for the mass scale production of masks, Personal Protective Equipment, followed by production of two brands of vaccine and also provide supply of it to over 70 countries. India had officially launched vaccination of indigenous vaccine to the Indians in February.
Surprisingly at the present juncture (towards the end of April), the country had begun to run into a big chaos. Presently it is quite an alarming situation in the country. The pandemic is spreading very fast. The alert videos produced by some doctors and social agencies are going viral all over the country. News reports say that the pandemic has been spreading very fast with alarming intensity because the people have stopped following preventive measures and the government had relaxed or being lenient in enforcing the preventive and protective rules.
Unlike during the first wave of COVID-19, the symptoms are manifesting within two or three days with a greater intensity. More number of young and the youth are getting affected. Even those who had vaccine are being afflicted.
The situation is chaotic in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and many other cities. Delhi and some other cities have already clamped lockdown for varied periods. Some cities, including Chennai and Patna have imposed night curfew. In Delhi, when the Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced lockdown on April 18, people started rushing to liquor shops where they formed long lines with a view to stock up the liquor. Despite the government advice, the daily and migrant workers started rushing to bus and railway stations to return to their native villages.
The national weekly COVID-19 positivity rate has increased from 3 percent to 13.5 percent in the last one month. Chhattisgarh registered a record rise of 130.3 percent infection rate. Besides Chhattisgarh, states and union territories like Goa, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Ladakh also recorded high positivity during April 11-17, depicting a steep rise in weekly positivity as compared to a month ago (March 11-17). More than 20 percent rise in weekly positive cases has been recorded in Goa (24.2 percent), Maharashtra (24.1 percent) and Rajasthan (23.3 percent) warranting the need for much more testing and containment efforts.
Officials say while the cases are increasing rapidly, daily tests to detect infections have not increased proportionately in most states. Moreover, the share of RT-PCR continues to be low in states of concern which have a high rise of positive cases. Overall, daily tests have been in the range of 11.73 lakh to 15.66 lakh during the past fortnight.
On April 17, as many as 261,500 cases were reported across the country with 10 states accounting for 79 percent of the total. While Maharashtra continues to record the highest daily new cases at 67,123, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi are also reporting a steep rise in cases continuously during the past fortnight.
Hospitals in most cities are reporting shortage of beds, and short supply of vital drugs and much needed oxygen. Consequently, the government has issues orders restricting the supply of oxygen to the industry, and diverting it for medical use in the battle against rising cases of COVID-19.
The price of both 10-liter and 47.2-liter oxygen cylinders used in hospitals has more than doubled with the manufacturers charging Rs. 25,000 for 10-liter cylinder up from Rs. 9,400 in a matter of days. Similarly the price of 47.2 oxygen cylinder, used commonly in hospitals rose to Rs. 25,000 from Rs. 14,000.
There is short supply of much needed anti-viral drug – Remdesivir — and in some places it is being sold in the black market. In Hyderabad a medical shop owner and his employee have been arrested for selling Remdesivir injection at an exorbitant price. According to the police, the accused were selling the injection at Rs. 14,500, which was normally priced at Rs. 3,490.
In the latest effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, the government has ordered to step up the production of the vaccine. India is presently producing three types of vaccines – Oxford’s AstraZeneca, Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, and Sputnik. Biological E has obtained license to produce one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. While India is committed to honor its exports of vaccine, it has also now liberalized rules by waiving customs duty to import vaccine from other counties. The Indian manufactures are stated to have been facing financial crunch to increase the vaccine production to make it available at the price prescribed by the government.
While the government is expected to review the situation of availability of the vaccine soon, it has announced that from May 1 onwards, all adults without age limit would be eligible for receiving vaccine. The government says that a consignment of Sputnik vaccine is expected to arrive soon from Russia. The government has also requested Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to sell their products in India.
In a video that has gone viral, Dr. P.N. Jikki, principal of Kurnool Medical College, says that the mutant and double mutant viruses are responsible for the spread of the pandemic during the second wave in the country. The mutant and double mutant viruses are more powerful which are spreading very fast. As far as the symptoms like fever, sore throat, breathlessness and body pains — are concerned, they show up within two or three days, unlike during the first wave when they took 10-12 days. Additionally a patient may suffer from diarrhea during the second wave. The mutant virus is so strong that it is attacking even a fully vaccinated person. But the only difference is that its effect including mortality rate is higher on non-vaccinated people than on those vaccinated. Though the vaccine does not give 100 percent guarantee, one should get vaccinated for protection against the COVID-19. Dr. P.N. Jikki further emphasizes that all persons must get vaccinated and all those, who are vaccinated or not, must follow the safety rules like social isolation, wearing face and nose mask, washing hands frequently and staying indoors.
It is the social responsibility of all people to follow the safety norms to stay healthy. One should not forget to get vaccinated for not only safety of oneself, but also for the safety of the community at large. It is no time to get panic, but stay cool and avoid spreading rumors.
– Contributed by Mr. J.V. Laskshmana Rao, a former National News Coordinator of Express News Service, New Delhi, and former Chief Editor of US-based India Tribune. He frequently travels between India and the US.
Picture: While coronavirus mutants might be the primary cause of COVID-19 second wave in India, laxity of social distancing has also contributed to the spike. Some states are imposing night curfew, partial or full lockdowns as a result. (Credits – in.news.yahoo.com)