Even after India’s epidemic growth curve hit the bottom in mid-February with a new case growth rate touching 0.1 per cent, a recent sudden spurt in new cases has raised questions about India’s public health seriousness.
Experts believe that the dilution of strict compliance for Covid-19 protocols, coupled with complacence in the general public has caused the latest wave of infections.
It has, thus, postponed India’s prospects to reach a crucial containment phase of the pandemic.
Statistical data suggests that the epidemic growth rate (the percentage growth of new daily cases to the cumulative total number of cases) had fallen from around 16 per cent in the initial month of the lockdown in March 2020, to about 2 per cent by September 16, 2020 – when new cases touched a peak of 97,894. But awareness and increased compliance of Covid-19 protocols along with partial restrictions, helped the epidemic growth rate slow down to about 1.5 per cent in January 2021 and nearly 0.1 per cent in February 2021. A sustained growth rate of 0.1 per cent is required to contain the pandemic.
Based on his study, Dr D K Mangal, Dean-Research & advisor to S D Gupta School of Public Health, IIHMR University, Jaipur said, “India was at a forefront globally in containing the pandemic. Our epidemic growth curve was consistently falling till February. We did phenomenally well in containing the spread. In epidemiological terms, we could see the epidemic approaching containment phase in India, which was a big achievement,” Dr Mangal told Businessline.
But opening up of the economic activities, easing of restrictions on gatherings, laxity in adherence to Covid-appropriate behaviour and increased complacence on the back of availability of the vaccine did dilute the seriousness for precautions required. This dilution was observed at both levels – at the enforcement level and the community level.
“The government’s emphasise on the covid-appropriate behaviour and containment measures was reduced. Also, people started taking preventive measures lightly, despite the risk still being around. We have a larger mass of the population still susceptible to the infection,” he said.
In the 24 hours ending on Wednesday, India reported 47,262 new cases – the highest since mid-November 2020. This seems to have undone the efforts put for sensitising the public and the effectiveness of restrictions.
Dr Mangal states that various states had witnessed the second wave of infections at different time period. For India, the current wave is the strongest since the last peak in September 2020. This coincides with the easing of restrictions for gatherings including schools, public functions, religious and political gatherings, cinema etc.
“The second factor that played an important role (in spreading the infection) was complacence in the public with the availability of vaccine and they became careless about precautions required,” Dr Mangal stated.
Cautioning about the future waves, Dr Mangal informed that the pandemic was far from over and was less likely to disappearing any time soon.
“More than 200 countries are already affected. So the possibility of the pandemic to disappear or come under complete control is very thin. Vaccination is to prevent hospitalisations or deaths. So for now, our main weapon against Covid-19 continues to be social distancing, respiratory hygiene and masks,” Mangal said adding that covid-appropriate behaviour remains the weapon to fight Covid-19 even in the second wave.