One year after Tamil Nadu reported its first case of Covid-19, the state is once again on the alert. After a rocky beginning to the management of the virus, when testing remained too limited and delayed action resulted in the formation of large clusters, TN achieved a degree of success in containing the spread of the infection. Thanks to the tireless work of healthcare and sanitation workers and a commitment to high levels of RT-PCR testing, the peak caseload of the summer of 2020 subsided by the end of the year, while the case fatality rate also remained low.
However, in the past month, there has been a gradual increase in the number of fresh cases being reported, especially from Chennai, and the state is once again recording over 500 new cases each day. This rise comes just as political parties begin to engage in a month of hectic campaigning ahead of the Assembly polls even as complacency sets in amongst members of the public. This could be a dangerous cocktail.
While the state Health Department has remained vigilant even as cases dipped, it cannot be denied that the most stringent measures of surveillance and containment, including door-to-door checks, have been long relaxed. Health officials have now rightly instructed districts and local bodies to increase surveillance to prevent the emergence of a second wave. Attributing the rise in cases to family and workplace clusters, officials have ordered stricter adherence to quarantine norms and standard operating procedures. At this time, it is also important that political parties remain cautious and embrace responsible practices. They too must ensure pandemic norms are complied with at campaign events and meetings and must remind the public that the dangers of Covid remain real. The health officials must intensify communications campaigns to reiterate the importance of social distancing, mask-wearing and washing hands.
Thanks to the wonders of science, people around the world have been able to access high- quality, safe vaccines against a disease that was unknown 18 months ago. At this stage, the state, politicians and people must not let up the guard, lest we lose more lives—and livelihoods—to this virus. Not when the end may well be in sight.