Not Just Maharashtra, Data Points to COVID-19 Surge Across India

Not just Maharashtra, India sees a steady surge in cases across states. How worried should we be? FIT asks experts.

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COVID-19
4 min read
6 states account for more than 84% fresh cases in the country.
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If the steady upward surge in COVID cases across the country in the last 2 weeks is indicative of anything, it is that we are, in fact, in the early stages of a second wave. The question now is, how worried should we be? And how can we minimise its impact? FIT talks to with experts to find out.

First, let's look at what the numbers say.

A total of 46,951 fresh cases were reported in the last 24 hours (22 March) across the country to add to the 2,60,000 fresh cases in the last week.

To put this into perspective, this is what the numbers looked like back in July 2020 when we were in the midst of a steady rise which peaked in September with 100,000 new cases a day.

Last year this time, the first ‘Janata Curfew’ was announced on 22 March with India recording a total of 415 cases, and on 23 March 2020, several states announced complete lockdowns.

The last time we had these many single-day cases was on 11 November 2020 when 47,905 new infections were recorded.

Data from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare also points to 212 deaths in the last 24 hours, of which 99 were from Maharashtra.

Not Just Maharashtra

The numbers in Maharashtra continue to surge, accounting for more than 60 percent of the country’s daily cases. On Monday, 22 March, Maharashtra reported 30,535 fresh cases, taking its tally of total cases up to 2,15,241.

Mumbai alone, on Sunday, reported 3775 cases – its highest single-day tally since the beginning of the pandemic in the city in March 2020.

But, while the consistently high numbers in Maharashtra have been a focus of our collective concerns, the steady upward trend in graphs of other states is proof that the surge is not likely to be restricted to it.

In an earlier FIT article, Dr Swapneil Parikh said that, “It’s not just Maharashtra that needs to worry, we are looking at a situation that will impact the whole country since India does not have tight borders.”

COVID Cases Between 15-22 March Across the Worst-Hit States

(Data Source: HFWCOVID State Date/ GoK)

Maharashtra, Punjab, Kerala, Karnataka, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh account for 83 percent of the new cases reported in between 21 and 22 March.

Towards the beginning of March 2021, the number of cases seemed to dip in the capital, with Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain even going as far as to declare that COVID was nearing an “endemic” phase in the national capital. The latest data from the city, however, points to the pandemic being far from over.

In the last week, in particular, Delhi has seen a sharp rise in numbers, the daily count nearly doubling between 15 March (407 fresh cases) and 22 March (825 fresh cases).

Punjab, the second worst-hit state in the country, reported more than 2k fresh cases a fourth day in a row, with 2,644 new cases on 22 March. Chandigarh administration calls for all schools to be shut till 31 March amidst the surge.

Schools in Uttar Pradesh up to class 8 to remain closed till 31 March. UP currently has 3259 active cases. Both cities have also put curbs on Holi festivities, reported IANS.

What Is the Data Telling Us?

"There is no doubt that we’re already in the second wave,” says Dr Swapneil Parikh, an internal medicine specialist in Mumbai and author of ‘The Coronavirus: What You Need to Know About the Global Pandemic’.

“This time around it looks like there is increased transmissibility. And although mortality and hospitalisations are not very high right now, the rate of increase is concerning,” he adds.

He goes on to explain the time lag that occurs between the virus first spreading and its more serious manifestations emerging, and the weeks before people start needing hospitalisation, and even dying.

The early signals are always the initial rise in numbers. “We’ve seen this before in other countries as well,” he says.

Dr Parikh also talks about a specific concern being the high cases being reported in areas that have high seroprevalence, and the higher instances of younger people being infected.

“Based on the rate of increase in hospitalisations and mortalities that we’re seeing this time, the early signal is that this (the second wave) is worse.”
Swapneil Parikh, Internal Medicine Specialist, Mumbai

'Bumps and Surges Will Continue for a While'

“Even if we are able to control this one, there will continue to be bumps and surges every few weeks or months or so, in different parts of the country at different points in time. These smaller bumps and surges won’t go away completely.”
Dr Sumit Ray, Head, critical care medicine, Holy Family Hospital, Delhi. 

The key, he adds, is to contain the surge within those areas.

'It's Still Not Too Late'

What about vaccination? Can it be the answer to minimising the impact of the virus this time around?

Only if we start ramping it up immediately, says Dr Parikh.

“The number of people in India who have been vaccinated is so low that it isn’t really going to have an impact on the numbers just yet.”
Dr Swapneil Parikh

“We have to start scaling up vaccination a few weeks before the peak”, he explains.

Vaccines take a few weeks to start working, and the person will only be fully protected after their second dose, “so even if we start scaling (vaccination) today, the people to be vaccinated today will not have protection for another 3 weeks. And in 3 weeks we might be facing a disaster.”

Besides, vaccines alone are not going to help if we don’t follow other primary preventative measures.

“The good thing is that our healthcare workers will be safe this time around,” he adds.

Dr Ray talks about identifying and isolating cluster areas and focusing on them.

Another important factor to keep an eye on is the genomic mutations“to see if there is a genomic sequence in the mutation to see which ones are dominating.”

And of course, we need to be more mindful now, perhaps more than ever, of maintaining COVID appropriate behaviour. Social distancing and masks are a must, even after receiving the vaccine.

(This article was first published on FIT and has been republished with permission.)

(Written with inputs from IANS)

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