Just 9,283 new COVID-19 cases have been recorded in the last 24 hours, according to the Union Health Ministry. Such figures are encouraging, indicative that after a period of being the most heavily affected nation, India has turned the tables.
“Even after Diwali, we are not seeing a surge,” Dr M D Gupte, former director of the National Institute of Epidemiology, was quoted as saying in media reports. These figures are far lower than were seen following festivals and events earlier in the year and have been attributed to many Indians already having antibodies against the disease — a result of both vaccination, and, perhaps more so, natural infections that have already occurred.
However, the issue of complacency is fresh on the mind of many, as government declarations of India being “over COVID-19” have been issued before, followed shortly by peaks in cases all but eclipsing that of the wave that came before the announcement. With this in mind the country may remain cautiously optimistic, but remain on the side of caution.
As noted by Health Issues India “Cases surged to an all-time high in mid-September of 2020, hitting what was then a record point of more than 100,000 new daily cases. Following this, cases began to gradually fall, with the international community at the time hailing India as a clear case of handling and curtailing a crisis. Cases plateaued and remained at a low point — though still ever-present — until late February.”
The optimistic outlook prevalent among both the government and the public following India’s first wave would later take its toll. Complacency and so-called “pandemic fatigue” — describing the concept that people were tired of lockdown measures and chose to simply ignore them — led to mass crowds at public events. Religious festivals, as well as sporting events such as cricket saw crowds of thousands gathering, resulting in superspreader events that led to a second wave.
This second wave generated global records for daily cases, with consecutive days of more than 400,000 new cases. Likewise, daily deaths surpassed 4,000 a day, roughly double that of the first wave. As doctors on the ground described it, a “Pandora’s box” had been opened.
Across India’s second wave a number of new strains of COVID-19 were identified. Strains that have since become some of the dominant strains globally, going on to mutate further as they spread. The first of these was a “double mutant.” The double mutant, in which two base pairs of DNA are altered from the base strain — E484Q and L452R — was suggested by virologists to be both more contagious and capable of causing reinfection.
The second wave subsided almost as rapidly as it had begun, and since this point, India’s caseload has steadily decreased. While comparatively the burden after this point seemed small, this was only due to the overwhelming peaks that India had witnessed in the second wave. Since the end of the second wave in June of 2021, a consistent 30,000 to 40,000 cases were still being recorded until the end of September of this year. Cases have since fallen to be as low as a consistent 10,000 cases per day in recent weeks.
The currently low cases are highly encouraging. A number of factors are currently occurring that would, in theory, expose individuals to a greater risk of COVID-19. The recent festivals such as Diwali being foremost among these, as mass gatherings have shown to be a worldwide issue that have led to surging cases. In addition, pollution within urban areas has increased, another factor that exacerbates lung conditions, leading to vulnerability to infection. Despite such risk factors, cases are remaining low.
Previous predictions from the Government had warned of a potential surge in cases leading to a third wave across the festival season. Such a wave has fortunately not occurred. According to Al Jazeera “One of those reports quoted the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM), under India’s Ministry of Home Affairs, warning of a third wave in October. The report, published in mid-August and submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office, cited government experts and institutions warning of an imminent wave.”
One report suggested that if lockdown measures were not reinstated, there would likely be a third wave of COVID-19 with around 300,000 cases a day in October. Such a peak has not occurred, however, such low numbers of cases were witnessed before the second wave, highlighting the need for vigilance. “We need to understand that the disease is nowhere near being eliminated.” said T Sundararaman, the global coordinator of the People’s Health Movement and a former executive director of the National Health Systems Resource Centre. “It is present and continues to spread. It is endemic only when it does not take on the proportions of a pandemic.”