Why is India under a deadly second COVID wave?

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

India’s daily Covid cases had been hovering around 10,000 in February this year. Come April, and that figure stands at 3,70,000 daily cases. What went so wrong for the cases to increase by 3600%. The numbers are incredible, and I double-checked my calculation, but the calculation is correct. Was the second wave meant to be this bad? The second wave of the Spanish Flu (1918) was worse than the first wave. So, is it that pandemics get worse with time? I wouldn’t say that the second wave was preventable in India, but it wasn’t meant to be this bad. And Although second waves are bigger and worse than the first wave, the situation could have been contained. A perfect storm of factors- Government giving the wrong signal, public behaviour, political events, absence of genome sequencing- made the second wave much worse.

Government giving the wrong signal

Members of the ruling party-ministers- prematurely declared victory against the virus in January. I bet the virus would have said, “Picture abhi baki hai mere dost” (First wave was the trailer, wait for the picture my friend”). The health minister had praised Modi’s leadership and said his leadership was “an example to the world in international co-operation.” Euphoria at beating the virus had been building since late last year. The ruling party passed a resolution: It can be said with pride, India … defeated COVID-19 under the able, sensible, committed and visionary leadership of Prime Minister Modi… The party unequivocally hails its leadership for introducing India to the world as a proud and victorious nation against Covid.”

The ruling party forgot that with just 1.8% of the population vaccinated and countries like the U.S been hit by the virus in 4 waves, it was foolhardy to declare victory against the virus. The false sense of victory allowed Government to ease covid preventive rules.

But what baffled most was the Government allowing Kumbh Mela-a a religious congregation where lakhs of devotees gather on the banks of river Ganges. The state chief minister where the Kumbh Mela was held supported the Kumbh Mela by saying, “the faith of God will overcome the fear of COVID-19”.

The above statement brought back to my memory another statement that had no logic. A few years back, one of the Ministers stated that Wright Brothers did not invent the flying machine, but India had it long ago. I was dumbfounded. The above examples show that scientific thinking is not encouraged in the country

It seemed that the Government was living in a parallel universe. A universe where every Indian is vaccinated or the virus has been banished from the country’s boundaries. The Government defended its decision by stating that “Covid-19” protocols will be strictly enforced at Kumbh Mela. This was the dumbest thing that I heard. I mean, the Government was struggling to ensure appropriate covid behaviour outside Kumbh Mela, yet they had the confidence of implementing it at a place where lakhs of people were gathering to celebrate an event. I think the Government had an underhand dealing with the virus. The virus had agreed to stay away from Kumbh Mela.

Political events

Instead of prioritising Covid containment, the Government prioritised state elections-key elections in five states where 186 million people were eligible to vote for 824 states. Election rallies were packed and were a perfect setting for the virus to spread. While it is difficult to establish a direct link between election rallies and surging covid cases, it will be foolish to deny the possibility of cases surging because of these rallies. As prof Young of Warwick Medical school puts it, “There are bound to be pockets of people confined in spaces outside in close proximity to people excreting the virus. It’s a distinct possibility that could lead to infections.” No doubt that these rallies increased the chances for the virus to spread.

In West Bengal, a poll-bound state, the daily case numbers increased from 200 cases (March 1) to 3798 cases (April 13). Tamil Nadu, a poll-bound state, recorded 5715 daily cases (April 13), a sharp increase from 470 cases (March 1).

https://indianexpress.com/elections/bengal-assam-tamil-nadu-kerala-election-covid-19-cases-7273698/

Absence of Genome sequencing

The virus was given every chance to spread, and it wasn’t going to miss on this. That’s what they are meant to do. And all this led to another problem: Mutation. The mutation is a change in the virus to become another version of itself. These changes are important for the virus to survive. Every living being evolves over a period to better adapt to its environment, thereby increasing its survival rates. But this means the virus may become more infectious and deadly. Precisely, this is what Indian scientists have been discussing. Is the second wave worse than the first because of a new strain, or other reasons exist for a deadlier second wave?

And the Indian scientists are struggling to confirm whether a new virus strain is responsible for a surge in covid cases. Why are the scientists struggling? Because no or little data exists to confirm the scientists’ theories. A new variant- U.K variant- was first reported in October 2020, but no one cared to sequence the new variant’s gene. This has limited the understanding of Indian scientists. Genome sequencing can help understand whether new variants have different symptoms and how severe a disease it can cause. Further, sequencing helps understand how the virus is spreading-pattern- and how effective the steps to contain the virus have been.

Public behaviour

The public had grown weary of appropriate covid behaviour. They wanted to go back to a pre-covid lifestyle quickly. Besides, I believe they were picking up cues from the Government- Kumbh Mela, election rallies, leaders coming on television without masks. It gave the public an appearance of normalcy. Instead of wearing masks, washing hands regularly, and maintaining social distance, people were attending social gatherings. Marriage restrictions were eased as the limit on the number of guests attending the wedding was increased. Social distancing went for a toss.

Photo by Lisanto 李奕良 on Unsplash

Indeed, a perfect storm of factors led India from we have got this to absolute chaos. It’s human nature that we don’t take things seriously until the situation goes out of control. It was as if the leaders had an underhand dealing with the virus the whole time. The leaders were confident that the virus would not spread, and the second wave will never hit India. But the virus world works differently-One cannot bribe their way to get what they want. History will judge the Government’s handling of the pandemic even if the upcoming elections won’t.

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SURYASH KUMAR

SURYASH KUMAR

I share my perspective through my writing to which you may disagree. You can contact me at coolsuryash@gmail.com