Second coming
THE WEEK|April 18, 2021
The new wave of Covid-19 cases was caused more by a relaxed approach to Covid-appropriate behaviour and inadequate policy measures than mutant virus strains
POOJA BIRAIA JAISWAL

In January, the Union government told the Rajya Sabha that the pandemic was on the decline in the country. But, by the second week of March, the scenario changed and has continued to get worse. On April 5, India recorded more than one lakh fresh Covid-19 cases, its highest one-day spike ever.

Despite the emergence of mutant strains, experts say the surge is mainly because of crowded gatherings and events, free movement of people post unlocking and a lack of Covid-appropriate behaviour.

As the second wave grips the country, Maharashtra has been worst affected, so far. It recorded an unprecedented five lakh plus cases in less than a month. The 57,000 plus cases it recorded on April 4 was an all-time high 24-hour spike; the state’s caseload stood at over 30 lakh. Mumbai, which accounted for around 4.5 lakh of the cases, also hit an all-time high 24-hour spike (11,163) on April 4. To tackle the surge, the state government announced a night curfew and weekend lockdown till April 30.

The spike in cases first became evident in February in western Maharashtra’s Pune and Satara districts and Vidarbha’s Yavatmal and Amravati districts. It subsequently led to the imposition of lockdowns and stringent restrictions. The rural areas of Amravati reported a higher number of cases than the urban areas, continuously for a week. This is consistent with the emerging trend of infections in the second wave.

“The second wave of Covid-19 is peculiar in many ways and in Maharashtra itself, which is badly hit for the second time, various trends emerge,” said Dr Shahsank Joshi, a member of the state’s Covid-19 task force. “The first wave was limited to the urban areas and metropolises to a large extent. This wave has spread its tentacles to the remotest areas and has affected entire families and households. In Maharashtra, for instance, it started in Vidarbha and Marathwada where the people were not exposed to the virus earlier.”

He added that the rise in cases was in tandem with a lack of Covid-appropriate behaviour and zero masking. “Because these people were never exposed to the virus, they thought it had disappeared,” said Joshi. “Then, gram panchayat and local body elections happened in Maharashtra and Kerala, and because of non-compliance to Covid rules, we started getting clusters of hotspots.” On March 17, the Central government, too, highlighted that the virus was moving “closer to rural areas” alongside its spread in tier-2 and tier-3 cities.

On March 24, the health ministry said that a new and highly infectious strain, which may render vaccines less effective, was detected in India. However, this possibility has been ruled out by most, saying that the new double mutant variant (L452R+E484Q) has so far not been found in numbers sufficient enough to establish a link with the surge in cases. “At this stage, it is difficult to say that it is the causal factor,” said Dr Raghini Ranganathan, public health official and epidemiologist. “Any correlation between the emergence of the variant and the increase in spread and fatalities will be coincidental, at present. Unlike the UK variant (it was established that the transmissibility had increased and case fatality rate remained low), we do not have proof for the Indian variant. The Brits went into fresh lockdown once that variant was discovered. But, mutations happen all the time and the 71 variants of the novel coronavirus that have been identified so far behave ‘uniquely’.”

In March, more than a dozen states, including Punjab, Karnataka, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, and the Union territories recorded their highest numbers in the second wave and accounted for close to 78 per cent of all fresh Covid-19 cases in the country. Delhi, too, saw a sharp spike in cases in the last few weeks.

Punjab and Chandigarh are a cause for concern as cases are rising alarmingly. These regions have been very slow with the vaccinations. In fact, the Centre dispatched a team to Chandigarh to help guide local officials on managing the surge. The team comprises experts from Ram Manohar Lohia and Safdarjung hospitals in Delhi and is led by Vijoy Kumar Singh, additional secretary and financial adviser, ministry of textiles.

The seriousness of the situation can be further understood by looking at the R-naught (R0) of India. R0 is a value which calculates the average spreadability of an infectious disease. And experts say that India’s current R0—close to 1.13—is “extremely worrisome”.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM THE WEEKView All

THE MILLENNIAL MESSENGER

With his pen spitting fire against issues like caste and politicking, Tamil rapper Arivu wants to influence the lives of people around him

4 mins read
THE WEEK
May 23, 2021

I HAVE JUST STARTED OUT

INTERVIEW Anupam Kher, actor

4 mins read
THE WEEK
May 23, 2021

The resilient city

When faced with a looming oxygen crisis, Mumbai responded by changing its supply-based system to a storage-based one

4 mins read
THE WEEK
May 23, 2021

INDIA'S FERTILITY DROP

The sperm count is down, and egg quality low. Men and women in India are struggling to conceive. While lifestyle issues do contribute to infertility, researchers are more worried about hormone-altering chemicals that surround us. THE WEEK investigates how these are impacting our reproductive health

10+ mins read
THE WEEK
May 23, 2021

Loss and profit

With his challengers failing to deliver West Bengal for the BJP, Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s chair appears to be safe for now

4 mins read
THE WEEK
May 23, 2021

Court off-balance

While courts have had to step in to fill the vacuum left by the executive, not every order has helped pandemic management

6 mins read
THE WEEK
May 23, 2021

Scripting a flop

After drawing a blank in the polls and facing a revolt in his party, Kamal Haasan has a dim political future

4 mins read
THE WEEK
May 23, 2021

Low sperm count is an indicator of the presence of disease

Dr Shanna Swan, professor of environmental medicine and public health, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City

10 mins read
THE WEEK
May 23, 2021

Bedlam in Bengaluru

Amid a political slugfest triggered by Tejasvi Surya, Karnataka desperately tries to shore up its creaky Covid response system

6 mins read
THE WEEK
May 23, 2021

Fungus Follows Virus

Pandemic has led to an increase in the incidence of mucormycosis, which can be life-threatening

3 mins read
THE WEEK
May 23, 2021
RELATED STORIES

India thought it had the virus beat. The virus had other ideas

Governments around the world keep repeating the same mistakes. In a country of 1.4 billion, the consequences are on a whole new scale

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
May 17, 2021

Reincarnation And Realpolitik

China, India, and the U.S. are vying to influence the selection of the next Dalai Lama

5 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
April 19, 2021

An Exclusive Interview With Nandakumar Narasimhan

The Little Red Train

10+ mins read
Lens Magazine
March 2021

A Room for Dad

Before Mom passed, I made a promise to her

8 mins read
Guideposts
April 2021

THE DANGAL IN THE JUNGLE, PART 1

YOU KNOW YOU’RE SOMEBODY WHEN YOU’VE APPEARED ON AN INDIAN DANGAL POSTER — IN OTHER WORDS, IN A WRESTLING ADVERTISEMENT.

6 mins read
Black Belt
April/May 2021

WOUNDS AND THE WOMB

JULIE PETERS explores how to heal a relationship with the sacred womb, a place of death, life, and possibilities.

8 mins read
Spirituality & Health
Mar/Apr 2021

BE SQUIRRELY

Giant squirrels, giant lessons? Animal chaplain SARAH BOWEN explores what squirrels can show us about mindfulness.

4 mins read
Spirituality & Health
Mar/Apr 2021

E8 Caste and the Indian Tech Ivies

IIT grads are highly sought after in Silicon Valley. Are they bringing deep-rooted prejudices with them?

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
March 15, 2021

Life Changing

I was happily married, happily employed, just plain happy. Until the accident

8 mins read
Guideposts
February 2021

IN SEASON Chickpeas (GARBANZO BEANS)

Chickpeas appear in early recordings in Turkey well over 5000 years ago. India produces the most chickpeas worldwide but they are grown in more than 50 countries. An excellent source of carbohydrates, protein, fiber, B vitamins, and some minerals, they are a nutritious staple of many diets. The name chickpea comes from the Latin word cancer, referring to the plant family of legumes, Fabaceae. It is also known by its popular Spanish-derived name, the garbanzo bean. Kidney beans, black beans, lima beans, and peanuts are other familiar foods found in this legume family.

1 min read
Alternative Medicine
February 2021