Virus Is Winning

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New ideas needed to stop surge in COVID-19 cases

The coronavirus infection rate and the mortality arising from it are growing in alarming proportions in India. Single-day spike has been soaring and soaring for the past several weeks. The country recorded 9,971 new COVID-19 cases in 24 hours as per the official figures released on Sunday morning. The number of people afflicted by the disease has risen to 2,46,628. India has become the fifth worst affected country in the world. The other countries that have more cases of coronavirus than India now are the United States, Brazil, Russia and the United Kingdom. India also recorded 287 deaths, the highest single-day spike in mortality in the last 24 hours, taking the total number to 7,000. The nation’s top four metro cities – Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai – continue to account for nearly half of the nationwide Covid-19 tally. With the numbers of cases rising, India could see a record surge in five figures in the days ahead. Health experts have warned that the number of COVID-19 cases could peak in the next wo months.

Ten states – Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Karnataka and Bihar – account for over 2 lakh (84 percent) of total coronavirus cases and 95 percent of total fatalities in the country. Gujarat, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Delhi stand out in terms of case-fatality rate or number of deaths per 100 cases. Incidentally, Ahmedabad with 118 deaths per million has recorded a 6.9 case fatality rate(CFR) in the country due to COVID-19. It is followed by Kolkata with 6.4, Pune with 4.4, Surat with 3.9, Bengaluru with 3.3 CFR. Mumbai, which has recorded the highest number of deaths due to coronavirus in the country so far, stands at number six as far as CFR is concerned as its death figure stands at 83 per million. What should be worrying the authorities in Gujarat is the fact that out of nearly 1,250 deaths recorded in the state  due to coronavirus their number in Ahmedabad was close to 1,000 and the same continues to remain unchecked.

The rising number of coronavirus cases in the country could be significantly attributed to repatriation of lakhs of migrants to their home states. Most of the migrants, who used to stay in overcrowded dwellings near their workplaces, might have got the virus from their roommates or fellow passengers during travel and carried it home. While carrying of virus by migrants is likely to stop with the completion of repatriation in about two to three weeks from now, there is a possibility that others who return from newer hotspots and the transport workers who transport consignments of food and other items could add to the numbers of coronavirus cases in the days ahead. The government of India would have to change the standard operating procedures to deal with the situation in the days ahead. To contain the spread of the virus it is necessary that truck drivers and cleaners are made to compulsorily carry COVID-19 negative certificates. The government could subsidise the cost of certification to help the transport companies get their drivers and employees cleared of risks.

The uncontrolled rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in the country is indicative of the fact that prolonged lockdown failed to yield the desired results. Though 2.46 lakh cases and 7,000 deaths may appear to be too few for a country of 137 crore population, the national and state authorities need to come out with newer strategies to deal with the coronavirus before it assumes catastrophic proportions and becomes unmanageable. India has limited health infrastructure, particularly ventilators and intensive care units, and a big increase in numbers of cases could be catastrophic. There are already reports of patients with COVID-19 symptoms being turned away by private hospitals on the ground of non-availability of beds. With the economy taking a big hit, the country cannot afford another major lockdown. The authorities would have to come out with new ideas to deal with the disturbing situation before it is too late to control the spread of the coronavirus and the mortality rate.