The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi chairing a meeting to review the preparations on Covid-19 pandemic, in New Delhi on July 11, 2020.
As of July 11, over 8.2 lakh people in India had been infected by the novel coronavirus, as per the official tally maintained by the health ministry. And, there have been over 22,000 deaths due to the dreaded disease. Anyway, slice it or dice it, India is passing through a surge of COVID-19 infections, spreading mainly in urban or peri-urban areas, but with some rural spread, too.
A handful of states account for most of the cases but the disease has spread far and wide, and remains a ticking bomb that can explode any time, given its highly contagious nature. All this is based on hospital cases, which enter into government records. Many experts believe, with justification, that the actual number of cases would be much higher, though most of such unreported cases would not be serious.
64% of All Cases Occurred in Past One Month
But here is the sting: nearly two-thirds of these cases have happened in the past one month, between June 12 and July 11. [See chart below] That means, about 5.2 lakh cases took place in the past one month alone, while the remaining three lakh cases accumulated in the course of the preceding four-and-half months. Clearly, the pandemic is accelerating, and with worrisome speed.
As you can see in the above chart, in some states like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka, about 80% to nearly 90% of all cases occurred in the past one month.
Telangana had been in a ‘strict’ lockdown right through the past three months, so it’s a bit of a comedown for those who argued – like the ruling Narendra Modi government – that the lockdown was the most effective weapon to combat the pandemic.
Karnataka, on the other side, had become a much-quoted example of massive contact tracing and how it was containing the virus. Yet, that system has cracked up under the current surge. The numbers are just too much to be followed up for all contacts.
Delhi, of course, has the third highest tally of infections in the country (after Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu) but it has also led in testing on a mass scale. Here too, over two-thirds of the cases occurred in the last month.
Kerala had successfully controlled the pandemic all through but is undergoing a surge in cases triggered by the return of a large number of migrants – estimated at about five lakh (on July 6) - from abroad and from other states.
Surging New Daily Cases
To get a better picture of the ongoing surge, have a look at the chart below which gives daily new cases computed from data, as reported by the health ministry. On July 11, a record 27,114 new cases were reported. The trend is clear – from a mere 3,604 new cases per day on May 12, the tally relentlessly rose to 10,956 by June 12. Note that this is when the lockdown was mostly in progress, with some easing at the end of this period. Then, it nearly tripled in the next month ending July 11.
Clearly, the reasons behind this surge are complex. It’s a chronicle of tragically inadequate efforts to prevent transmission by testing, contact tracing and isolation, and a misconceived belief in what are known as non-pharmacological interventions, like lockdowns, school closures, restriction on gatherings etc. The first led to surge in virus while the second led to a collapse in the economy, which in turn led to severe distress, reverse migration, and naturally, a strong urge by people to get back to work, in order to survive.
This completed the circle, because when restrictions were most needed, the government was inclined to open up factories and offices, thus creating more transmission possibilities. It’s a sad saga of mismanagement, all the more heartless because of the accompanying rhetoric by those in power, led by the Prime Minister himself.
The Modi government has been sleep-walking into this unfolding calamity as blithely and cockily as ever. In the face of rising numbers, it has continued to grope around for effective answers, and preferred photo ops and dramatic announcements. Statistical jugglery has often been deployed to create the impression that things are getting better. But the people are seeing the numbers, and are frantic, and confused.
Most experts think that it is still not too late to adopt a massive programme of TTI (testing, tracing and isolation) in most parts of the country before things get out of control. If Dharavi (the huge slum in Mumbai), or to some extent Bengaluru, and Kerala and Odisha can hammer together a comprehensive strategy, implement it with rigour and control the spread, why can’t it be done elsewhere? There is still time to save thousands of lives from the disease, and possible death. But the sleep-walkers need to wake up first.