By Dr. Gyan Pathak
Resurgence of new COVID-19 infection since the withdrawal of curbs — including the mandatory wearing of masks, keeping and use of sanitisers in public premises, and maintaining physical distancing —by several states from beginning of April 2022, is a serious concern, though it is too early to treat it as a signal for the fourth wave in India. There are many other immediate threats more pressing than the fourth wave which need urgent attention.
The first of all is the high fluctuation in the recorded number of new COVID-19 cases. During the last 24 hours, the country registered a huge drop of nearly 43 per cent in new cases which were in absolute number 1247. Only one day before it was 2,183, which was a 90 per cent increase in new cases with a 165 per cent increase in positivity rate in a single day.
The fluctuation itself shows that the COVID-19 data is erroneous and does not reflect the actual position on the ground. The Centre has even said that some states are not reporting their state-level COVID-19 data daily, which impacted the country’s key pandemic monitoring indicators such as cases, deaths, and positivity rate. The name of Kerala has particularly mentioned and it was said that the state reported its data after a gap of five days on Monday, April 18. Even Joint Secretary of Union Ministry of Health Lav Agarwal has shot up a letter to the Principal Secretary of Health in Kerala, and asked to “ensure daily updation” of COVID-19 data.
Though Lav Agarwal said that the Centre has regularly emphasized the need for a robust reporting mechanism for monitoring state-wise cases and deaths on daily basis, there are many knowledgeable people that the India has always misreported about the cases. For example, J P Muliyil, former head of the department of community health, Christian Medical College, Vellore, Tamil Nadu has said, “For delta, cases were 25 times what was reported. For omicron, it’s at least 100, if not more. The government data is no way giving you an accurate picture.” It is well known that tests are being conducted at very low scale, and hence discovery of confirmed cases are low.
Let it be so. The people must follow the Covid-appropriate behaviour, and should not be complacent on the government data which put the active cases in the country which rose to 11,860, with only one fresh fatality reported from Uttar Pradesh and daily positivity rate at 0.31 per cent while recovery rate remaining at 98.76 per cent. These data may give one an impression that it is not a major concern for the country at this moment.
However, this impression will mislead one to put off one’s guard against the pandemic, which in turn may prove costly as it is happening in several states and regions. In Gurugram, positivity rate stood at 8.78 per cent on April 13, after which daily testing was to be increased from 1,500 to a range of 3,000-4,000. On April 14, daily positivity rate shot up to 2.39 per cent in Delhi which increased to 4.42 per cent on April 17, and again 7.72 per cent on April 19 morning. The cases are sharply rising in five states — Maharashtra, Kerala, Mizoram, Delhi and Haryana. Secretary of Union Ministry of Health Rajesh Bhushan has warned them to remain vigilant.
After the rise in cases in Gurugram and Faridabad, the Haryana had to make wearing of masks compulsory in those cities along with two other districts Sonipat and Jhajjar. Even earlier, Uttar Pradesh government had also announced mandatory wearing of masks in six districts —Gautam Buddha Nagar, Ghaziabad, Hapur, Meerut, Bulandshahr and Baghpat.
“It is essential that the states maintain a strict watch and take preemptive action if required in any areas of concern to control any emerging spread of infection. Testing and surveillance remain important to treat the virus, its spread and evolution,” Rajesh Bhushan wrote in his letter to the states.
Even if the present resurgence is at a manageable level, it should be kept in mind that immunity of people triggered because of COVID-19 or inoculation is waning fast. While allowing booster doses, the Centre has indicated 9 month after which vaccines may give no protection. Thus large number of people in the country would lose immunity every day, and majority of them cannot get the booster doses in private hospitals because they cannot afford. It means the country is heading towards vulnerability.
There is also a threat of long COVID, which according to studies, affects 1 in 5 people following infection, even four weeks after first being diagnosed, and only two or three weeks after recovery. It can linger even for more than 12 weeks and are not explained by an alternative diagnosis. It usually presents with cluster of symptoms, often overlapping, which can fluctuate and change over time and can affect any system of the body.
It is in this context we should recall the prediction of the study by IIT-Kanpur that had warned about the fourth wave likely to begin around June 22 and peak from mid to late August, though other experts have said that there would be no fourth wave until a new more ferocious variant of COVID-19 emerges. However, who can say there will be no new more virulent variants?
NITI Aayog member (health) V K Paul had, however, said IIT-Kanpur study was a “valuable input”. Now, a time has come with the fresh hike in infections that the country should go ahead with utmost precaution and must follow COVID-appropriate behaviour such as wearing masks, maintaining physical distance, and use of sanitisers. Exposing oneself or others to COVID-19 risks will not be wisdom. (IPA Service)