With the festive season around the corner, the fear of a spike in COVID-19 cases in India looms large.
A government-appointed expert panel formed by the Department of Science and Technology has concluded that even though India crossed its COVID peak in September, a bigger peak in November could be expected if the right precautions aren’t followed.
A Slew of Warnings
Manindra Agrawal, member of the DST’s committee and Professor of the Department of Computer Science at IIT Kanpur, told ThePrint,
“If the existing personal safety protocols do not continue in full measure, we could see another peak in November and it can be even bigger. In fact, we estimate that if these measures do not continue, active cases could rise to 25 lakh within a month (from the current 7,72,055).”Manindra Agrawal
“But the biggest impact would then be on mortalities. If all these precautions are thrown to the wind, we can see mortalities easily tripling by February.”
Another report by the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) led by Dr VK Paul, member (health) and head of the national Covid-19 task force, has stated that the next three months are going to be critical in Delhi’s COVID-19 fight.
“Large gatherings are super-spreader events. They must be avoided. Coming festivals (Chhat, Puja, Dussehra, Deepavali, Eid, X-Mas and New year) pose a huge challenge in terms of pandemic control. It has been seen that Onam in Kerala and Ganesh Chaturthi in Maharashtra worsened the Covid-19 situation in those regions. This must not be allowed to happen in the national capital.”NCDC report
“Our emerging gains in a reduction in cases will be reversed because of these festivities and the rush in markets/localities. Such a potentially avoidable setback will dent the image of not only the national capital but the country as well" stated the report.
The state of Kerala just witnessed a similar increase in the number of infections after concluding its Onam festivities. Alerting the nation with this example, Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan during his ‘Sunday Samvaad’, urged the people of the country to avoid large gatherings and to not be negligent or complacent due to the approaching festivals.
According to an IANS reported, the NITI Aayog has also warned that the second peak of Covid-19 is impending over the country, in view of the winter season and festivities around the corner.
Winter, Pollution, Festivals During COVID-19
FIT had earlier reported on the expectant rise in the number of COVID-19 cases with the approaching winter season. Dr Shahid Jameel, a Virologist & CEO of Wellcome Trust DBT India Alliance had said,
“It is a known fact that in the winter, the flu spreads better as the coronaviruses are more stable at colder temperatures. Besides, in winters, one tends to stay indoors and this can increase the circulation of the virus if infected.”Dr Shahid Jameel
The other contributing factor to a potential increase in the number and severity of cases is air pollution, which has already started to haunt parts of the country.
To put it simply, air pollution damages various parts of the body by infiltrating the blood vessels, causing inflammation and suppressing immunity. Large-scale evidence exists to support its contribution to heart diseases, stroke, diabetes, asthma, cancer and other comorbidities - all of which are known to increase complications in COVID-19 patients.
Dr Vikas Maurya, Director and Head of Department, Pulmonology, Fortis Hospital Shalimar Bagh, Delhi, explained,
“The winter season coincides with high pollution due to more concentration of particles in the air. This is also part of the reason why every year, we see a surge in respiratory viral infections during this time. This trend is nothing new, but with COVID-19, the challenge has, of course, increased manifold.”Dr Vikas Maurya
Combine all this with the increase in social gatherings with the upcoming festivals, aided by the unlock, and we are looking at an automatic increase in cases - if not controlled in time.
How Do We Prevent a Spike?
“We are coming to a season where we have to be careful. We need to stress the use of masks and distancing. We also need to remind people on the correct way to wear masks - without gaps and covering both nose and mouth,” said Dr Jameel.
While the challenges and risks are set to multiply due to the deteriorating air and change in temperature, the solutions remain the same.
Masks, distancing and respiratory hygiene can help prevent COVID-19 and cut down its transmission rate.
With the emerging evidence for the airborne spread of the coronavirus, and winters causing us to coop up inside, wearing the masks in particular indoor settings also becomes crucial. You can watch our explainer on airborne transmission and how to contain it here.
As Dr Jameel pointed out, despite the winter and flu season in Southern Australia, the flu didn’t spread as much because people were masked up due to COVID-19. So in effect, both infections were curbed.
“It’s our responsibility to wear a mask properly, that’s the only way we can stop the spread. That, and proper hand hygiene and social distancing,” he said.