Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announcing a four-fold hike in penalty on people not wearing masks in public places indicates the gravity of the situation his administration is grappling with. Weeks after the country managed to flatten its Covid curve, the capital finds itself in the grip of a third wave with an upswing in fresh cases and fatalities.
By this month-end, Delhi will have added over 4,000 Covid beds as part of its ramped-up infrastructure to save lives. That a Covid spike could be expected in dry cold weather was always known. Delhi’s smog due to vehicular pollution and callous farm stubble burning in the neighbouring states has made the situation all the more acute. Winter has just begun; more troubles lie in store.
Mathematical models suggest the situation could ease by February, but that is three dreadful months away.
The fresh infection count is already creeping up in other states like Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra as well, though the overall daily national tally of new cases is under 50,000 as of now. Kerala’s caseload, too, is on the higher side.
Drastic times call for equally drastic measures, like the 57-hour weekend shutdown in Ahmedabad and the invoking of Section 144 of the IPC in Rajasthan. Since full lockdowns have a searing economic cost, anything short of that can be expected to be on the table. Further, the Oxford and Bharat Biotech vaccines, which appear to be the most suited for Indian conditions, could come into play in months.
One reason experts cite for the comparatively mild rise in cases in India is its high seroprevalence—ratio of people getting infected without their knowledge and developing antibodies for immunity. In contrast, the ballooning of cases in the US—the daily count is over 2 lakh—is because of its low seroprevalence. Ditto Europe. If that is true, India would be better placed to deal with the fresh wave.
To take advantage, we need a clear behavioural change. It cannot be business as usual. Unless people learn to help themselves by meticulously following Covid protocol like personal distancing and wearing masks, they would be part of the problem, as they are right now. The choice is stark.