Calm before the storm?
The current wave of infections across the world has brought back the dreaded possibility of mass lockdowns. Indeed, several countries have already taken the necessary measures to go into partial lockdown. At this moment, it seems unlikely any country would be willing to bear the collateral cost of imposing a full lockdown. The level of normalcy that had initially crept back in nations where the virus was contained has now receded once again. In France, a countrywide lockdown is underway that will last until December 1 at the very least. While schools, businesses, industries and essential services are open, social gatherings of any kind are restricted. People may only move out for work, essential goods, medical aid or one allotted hour of exercise. Similarly, Spain is under a nationwide lockdown and national emergency that is set to last until May 2021. In the United States, the situation is particularly grim with close to a million cases added just last week. In the midst of this, there is no preparation or indication of a second lockdown. Both Biden and Trump have ruled out further lockdowns though many states are independently issuing statewide mask mandates and social restrictions. In New York, even as business owners dread any mention of lockdown or restrictions, the State of New York may inevitably reach some level of lockdown as well given that there is no hope of gaining control of the situation right now and localised lockdowns are being debated.
In India, many states face a similar battle of weighing the upsides of any level of lockdown against the cost. Some more than others. Delhi, in particular, is in a difficult position. Even as India itself reported 30,715 cases yesterday, Delhi reported 3,235 new cases as testing levels returned to normal following a significant lull during last week on account of festivities. The alarming spike is caseload and deaths have prompted a frantic response from both the Centre and the Delhi Government. Last week, Delhi CM Kejriwal asserted that the problem would be brought under control in 7-8 days and was largely a result of the elevated pollution conditions that are currently prevailing around the national capital. The Government even cautioned that the numbers were based on many hidden factors. The Delhi government claimed that 33 per cent of Delhi's caseload and bed occupancy was a result of non-resident patients from states around Delhi. Later on, it was also revealed that 24 per cent of the Covid deaths on the capital presently were also those of non-residents. All the same, regardless of where the cases are coming from, the fact remains that Delhi has presently overtaken even Maharashtra in daily case counts. It must be noted however that certain newspaper outlets have pointed out that Maharashtra has not published the number of tests being done daily since Diwali weekend. This raises the possibility of a premature relief over a false lull in caseload caused by fewer tests being conducted as was the case with Delhi last week.
What is certain is that the continuing festive season coinciding with winter smog and the onset of flu season has created a deadly cocktail that has likely negatively impacted the Covid situation throughout the nation. While there is no definitive answer as to how much the situation has been aggravated, a Niti Aayog assessment has claimed that the violation of Covid norms during the festive season has already created the situation that will see Delhi's Covid case rising to 500 cases per million population, up from 361 currently. The Centre has called for urgent action and already ICU beds are being added and medical personnel are being flown in to anticipate an even greater spike in caseload. It has even been reported that CM Kejriwal is looking to shut down certain markets if they emerge as Covid hotspots and has asked the Centre for the go-ahead. As a related note, it has been announced that the winter session of Parliament may be called-off unless the situation in the capital improves.
Overall, it is unfortunate to note that laxity following the initial success of containment efforts is already negatively impacting India's efforts to contain the pandemic. As is the case everywhere, relaxation of safety norms has been met with a predictable rise in caseload. It cannot be overstated that the approaching winter makes this laxness even more costly. Health experts have warned repeatedly that the worst is not behind us but very possibly ahead of us if governments and people do not come together and overcome this wave of pandemic fatigue that is slowing down our collective efforts.