On Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed concern over the sight of crowded places and people not following Covid-19 norms.
The government has also been red-flagging the widespread flouting of Covid norms and the “shocking” sight of overcrowding at popular hill stations, mere weeks after India crawled out of the worst phase of its devastating second wave.
Despite a steady pace of vaccination and a continuous decline in cases in many states, PM Modi has warned the fight against the pandemic is far from over.
Here’s why he may be right …
The bellwether states
PM Modi on Thursday expressed particular concern over the Covid situation in Maharashtra and Kerala as they have been reporting a persistently high number of infections.
While the daily Covid numbers are far fewer compared to the peak of the second wave, the infections in both these states continue to remain high.
Both states cumulatively make up over 50% of total infections reported in India in the last one week.
What’s particularly worrying is that Maharashtra is yet to hit its pre-second wave numbers, despite crossing its peak over 2.5 months ago. Moreover, in Kerala, the numbers have started rising again with the state breaching the 15,000-mark twice in the last month, the latest being on July 8.
A district-level glance at the Covid situation in these two states also tells a worrying tale.
Out of the 14 districts in Kerala, nearly half have been witnessing an increasing trend in Covid infections over the last month.
Daily cases have been increasing at a steady pace in the districts of Malappuram, Kozhikode and Kasaragod. In Kottayam and Thrissur, the cases are neither falling nor rising, which is again worrying as it signals that the spread of virus remains high in these areas.
The Kerala government has attributed the recent surge in cases to significant relaxations being offered under the state’s gradual unlock plan. It also said that the numbers are expected to go down.
‘Thick tail’ in Maharashtra
In Maharashtra, the Covid-19 graph has hit a plateau in the last two weeks with daily detections oscillating between 8,000 and 10,000 cases and the test positivity hovering around 5%
But it appears that several top districts in the state are stuck with a “thick tail”, similar to what happened after the first wave.
The Covid graph above shows that cases in Mumbai, Pune and Thane have declined since the peak of the second wave but continue to remain high, indicating the virus is still prevalent in many areas. This pattern has lent to a thick tale-like shape to the Covid graphs of these districts.
In districts like Kolhapur, the Covid cases continue to remain in the midst of the peak.
The reasons for the “thick tail”, according to experts, are not too clear. It could range from accurate reporting of Covid data to the size of the state to the density of the population.
One of the theories discussed in the state is the different “peaking time” for different districts in Maharashtra. Districts in Vidarbha were the first to report a surge in the second wave in February before the wave spread to the other districts. “When cases in the first-hit districts reached a plateau, cases in others began to peak,” said a senior official.
But when compared with some of the other cities/districts of India, which were struck hard during the second wave, the Maharashtra situation does appear worrisome.
Cases in places like Delhi, Bengaluru, Lucknow and Kolkata have declined significantly compared to their respective second wave peaks. In Delhi, where cases had peaked at over 28,000 in April this year, the daily infections are now down to just double digits.
However, if the cases in Maharashtra and Kerala continue to remain high, or surge further, other states will definitely feel the impact just like they did during the second wave.
Do remember that the spread of infection was highly concentrated in Maharashtra at the start of the second wave but the impact was later felt all across the country.
High positivity another concern
For the last couple of weeks, the Union health ministry has been expressing concern over the high positivity rate being reported from dozens of districts in India.
In the week ending July 8, as many as 66 districts across India had a test positivity rate (TPR) of 10%. A majority of them are in Rajasthan (10) and Arunachal Pradesh (10).
Earlier this week, Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan wrote to eight states with high positivity rates, urging them to take immediate action to bring down cases. These were Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Kerala, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, Odisha and Sikkim.
TPR refers to the proportion of samples that come out Covid positive out of the total samples tested. The World Health Organization recommends that TPR should remain below 5% for at least two weeks before granting relaxations in curbs.
A higher per cent positive suggests higher transmission and that there are likely more people with Covid in the community who haven’t been tested yet.
Prolonged second wave in northeast
Out of the eight states singled out by the Union health ministry for their high TPR, six are in the northeast alone.
Cases in at least half of the northeastern states are rising continuously. Most states are hovering close to their second wave peak while some are yet to even hit it.
Health experts have said that the prolonged second wave in the northeast is mainly due to lack of Covid-appropriate behaviour and change in virus strains.
In Manipur, the positivity rate on Thursday touched 19.11% with experts attributing it to either the change in virus strain or lack of Covid-appropriate behavior.
‘Pandemic not over yet’
The Union health ministry on Friday reiterated “there is still danger” and urged people to follow Covid protocols to end the second wave completely.
“The war is not over yet. There is still danger. It is necessary to keep following Covid protocols,” it said.
The government has also raised concerns over people breaching norms at tourist spots.
“We cannot lower our guard. A new risk is being seen at markets and tourist spots where a gathering of crowds being seen, social distancing and mask protocol is not being followed. This is a serious cause of concern,” Niti Aayog member Dr VK Paul said.
Be it a steep third wave or a prolonged second wave, it’s clear that the Covid pandemic in India is far from over.