The good news of decline in daily new COVID-19 cases
We have recently heard the very happy news of decline in the number of new COVID-19 cases over the past two fortnights. India reported 18% lower new cases during the first fortnight of October (October 1-15), as compared to the previous fortnight (September 16-30). The new COVID-19 cases in second fortnight of September were also lower (by 3%) than the first fortnight of September (September 1-15). This clearly demonstrates that the current COVID-19 pandemic is on the wane in India. Does this mean we have seen the worst or is there a chance of “second wave” of COVID-19 infections coming in India?
Second wave of COVID-19 has hit Europe and USA with a vengeance
Several European countries are currently reeling with a second wave of COVID-19 infections, and in many cases the numbers are higher than what were witnessed in the first wave. An article in The Conversation points out that France’s daily new cases peaked at 7,500 on 31 March. Its new peak was recorded on 10th October with 26,675 new cases in the previous 24 hours. Likewise, UK had a peak number of 7,860 daily cases on April 10, which has jumped to a peak of 17,540 on 8th October and is reported to be around 20,000 throughout last week.
Another report suggests that French hospitals are getting overwhelmed and doctors fear that there could be a shortage of hospital beds including ICU beds in the near future. Second wave of COVID-19 is currently being seen across all European countries and the numbers are much bigger than what were seen in the first wave. US, on the other hand, is currently going through the “third wave” of COVID-19 infections. The number of new cases yesterday was >63,000, a big jump over what was reported about 10 days back (about 40,000 new cases per day).
Second wave of COVID-19 in India is a distinct possibility
Second wave of COVID-19 infections is being seen in whole of Europe and USA, and it seems a real possibility in India too. There are several factors that could lead to a second wave of COVID-19 infections in India:
1. Fatigue with COVID-19 precautions: People have been following precautions for the past six months to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infections. After such a long duration, there seems to be fatigue setting in among a good number of people. Mask use in public should be universal, however, one can see many people without face masks nowadays. Social distancing rules are also not being followed on many occasions. Many people are not frequently washing hands. With a reported decline in COVID-19 numbers and lesser coverage of COVID-19 related news in media, fatigue and carelessness are likely to increase in future. This can be a sure-shot recipe for “second wave” of COVID-19 infections.
2. Possible rise in new cases during winter season: Several viral infections, especially flu, peak during winters in India. It is likely that COVID-19 cases could also increase in winter. Winter season starts in November and lasts up to February, so, one can expect a rise in cases especially in December 2020 and January 2021.
3. Social gatherings & festivals: Several important festivals would be celebrated in India during the next 3-4 months, including Dussehra, Diwali, Chhatth (celebrated mainly in Bihar and UP), Christmas and Sankranti. It would be difficult to maintain adequate social distancing
during the festivities. With relaxation in norms, the number of people attending marriage parties and other social functions would also increase, posing a challenge to maintaining adequate social distancing. Important elections are also scheduled in the next few months in some populous Indian states, which could pose a risk to COVID-19 containment measures.
What is the way forward?
The next 3-4 months would be crucial in our battle against COVID-19 pandemic. This period would decide whether or not we are able to effectively and decisively contain the pandemic. Therefore, the need to be most vigilant and careful is now. The following measures would help in preventing a likely second wave of COVID-19:
1. Universal wearing of face masks in public places should continue,
2. Adequate social distancing should be maintained at all occasions,
3. Restrictions on the number of people, who could attend political, cultural, religious, sports and entertainment functions/gatherings should continue,
4. Frequent hand washing should continue,
5. Un-necessary and leisure travel should be kept to bare minimum,
6. Hospital infrastructure (beds, equipment and personnel) should be ramped up and kept ready,
7. Widespread testing and contact tracing should continue,
8. Efforts to develop a vaccine at the earliest should be a priority,
9. The entire roadmap for manufacturing, procuring, transporting and storage of vaccines should be kept ready. Adequate finances should be allocated for the same.
Dr Sudhir Kumar
Senior Consultant Neurologist,
Institute of Neurosciences,
Apollo Hospitals, Jubilee Hills.