Since then, another 2 lakh COVID-19 cases have been added to India’s tally, taking it to 29 lakh as of August 21. Coronavirus cases in India are growing 39% faster than that in Brazil. On July 21, India had only 11.6 lakh cases, but a month later, India added 16.8 lakh cases. Between June 21 and July 20, India added 7.07 lakh cases only. The doubling time for COVID-19 cases has reduced in the country.
The virus has been waning and spreading differently across the country. Eight states in the country — Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, West Bengal and Bihar — have reported more than 1 lakh COVID-19 cases. While Maharashtra has been reporting more than 10,000 cases each day since Monday, Andhra Pradesh is close behind with more than 9,000 cases every day this week. Karnataka’s total Coronavirus case tally crossed the 2.5 lakh mark. Punjab, Odisha, Jharkhand and Kerala are seeing doubling rate of less than 20 days now.
However, cases in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are being under-counted and under-reported. “Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have been problematic states for any health metric. If you look at the top 10 cities, Lucknow is one of them. These states have to control,” pointed out Dr Shahid Jameel, a virologist. Bihar has been doing only 17,700 tests per 10 lakh population and Uttar Pradesh, 19,000 tests, compared to Andhra Pradesh’s 59,935.
What is happening now is the natural growth of the virus without slowing down. “The virus had to spread from urban to rural and that is happening now. Because we are a huge population where 65% are rural and 35% urban, this epidemic began in the urban areas and now will spill over to smaller towns and districts. We are also underreporting deaths. Most of the rural deaths are not being reported, so we will never know how many people died of COVID-19. This is India. Anybody could have predicted this in March,” said Dr T Jacob John, virologist and former professor at Christian Medical College, Vellore.
With 135.2 crore people, India is likely to have more cases than both the US and Brazil. “The only country with more population than India is China, but China never told us their true numbers. So, India will have the highest number of cases and deaths,” remarked John.
The narrative being put out by the government is that of the number of recovered cases and not of the number of cases. “That gives a false sense of security to people. We see so many people not wearing masks. It has been proven time and again that masks are the way to contain the outbreak. If everyone wore mask, then the outbreak would die down. We have to make it mandatory for people to wear masks,” underscored Jameel.
“Originally, when we had seen the growth rate, it was parallel to that of Italy; at that time we had predicted mid-August as the peak. We were wrong. We have not reached the peak yet. By predicting the peak, we had hoped the government would take action to flatten the curve. That did not happen effectively,” explained John.
The important thing is to reduce the growth rate of the outbreak in certain states. We need to contain the virus there. “The only thing at our disposal is to test at scale, trace contact and isolate cases. If that is done effectively, as Kerala had shown earlier, can the case load go down,” added Jameel.
Another lockdown is not needed. It killed more livelihoods than the virus, said Jameel. What is needed is selective lockdowns such as in Telangana and in Kerala.
But, can we count on herd immunity? “Herd immunity is a concept that one uses for vaccines. In this case, we do not know what percentage of population needs to get infected before everyone is protected. One sees numbers of 60%, but we also see numbers of 25%. No one knows really,” underscored Jameel.
If India wanted to reduce the speed of the spread, India had to take specific actions. To reduce the spread, people had to have correct information about the virus and its transmission. “We had to teach people about the social vaccine – information, education and communication about the vaccine; behaviour modification education of people and training of health care workers. None of these happened in India. So, the virus will take its own natural course,” said John.