India’s COVID-19 figures have been on a consistent decline for nearly a month. However, we are far from safe to celebrate.
While the news of a consistent decline in new cases may come as a welcome relief, it cannot be denied that the second wave has exerted a considerable toll on India. Deaths in the second wave have risen to world record breaking highs, as have the number of daily new cases. While the worst of the second wave appears to have passed India at the current moment, this does not mean that we are out of the danger zone.
As demonstrated in many other nations, figures dropping to all-time lows did nothing to prevent the emergence of second, and even third waves. India’s own second wave, according to many, is a result of complacency after the initial surge in cases last year.
“While the exact causes of surge are not known — since laxity in COVID-19 behaviour is not specific to the state — the possible factors are COVID-inappropriate behaviour due to lack of fear of disease, pandemic fatigue; miss outs and superspreaders; and enhanced aggregations due to recent gram panchayat elections, marriage season and opening of schools, crowded public transport, etc.”
The term “pandemic fatigue” was coined at the time, referring to the concept that many in India, as well as across the globe, were tiring of the constant lockdown measures and restrictions. This led to many across the globe simply ignoring lockdown measures, leading to increased rates of transmission. However, the role of complacency and early celebration on the part of the government cannot be ignored.
As recently as early March, Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan claimed India was in the “endgame” of the pandemic. Given the perception that the issue was largely over, many large scale events occurred, including cricket matches and religious gatherings. These were often attended by thousands of individuals, many maskless, and have since been speculated as superspreader events that have spurred the second wave.
Such speculation that the pandemic was largely over, followed by an attempted return to normality sparked a second wave that, at its peak, saw four times as many cases as the first wave. The aftermath was the focal point of worldwide media for weeks, with international aid required to assist in providing oxygen to India’s overburdened health system and reports of crematoriums running around the clock. However, while news from the cities was prevalent on social media, India’s rural population was largely overlooked on social media, despite their dire situation resulting from a lack of healthcare infrastructure.
The Times of India (ToI) recently reported of the dire situation of Basi, where “about three-quarters of the village’s 5,400 people are sick and more than thirty have died in the past three weeks. It has no healthcare facilities, no doctors and no oxygen canisters. And unlike India’s social-media literate urban population, residents can’t appeal on Twitter to an army of strangers willing to help.”
Some states, such as Maharashtra — which saw the brunt of the rise in COVID-19 cases early in the second wave — have since reported a reduction in cases. Others, such as Bihar, Chhattisgarh, and Uttarakhand, have announced plans to extend their lockdown protocols. It is likely that cities and areas more-well serviced by the health system are likely to overcome the COVID-19 second wave due to a greater access to hospitals and faster rollout of vaccines. Rural areas, however, may continue to weather a high burden for some time.
Vaccine rollout presents a hope that India, much like other countries now enjoying far lower figures, can stave off a potential third wave. However, it must be remembered that just a few short months ago, it was all but announced by the Centre that India had all-but overcome COVID-19. Caution and vigilance are imperative moving forward and it cannot be understated that, while cases are indeed reducing, the new daily cases still remain higher than the peaks of the first wave. The crisis is far from over.