Amid lockdowns, are we opening up too soon?
The Indian government has warned that the pandemic is far from over. Britain’s decision to ease restrictions despite the rising number of Covid cases has come in for sharp criticism of the World Health Organisation with its chief scientist putting it bluntly while talking of the current situation: the pandemic is not slowing down, given the rapid spread of the Delta variant across several regions of the world and the slow progress in vaccinations.
Yet state after Indian state is announcing relaxations in restrictions imposed on the movement of people. While experts agree that all efforts should be made to begin a transition to normality, keeping in mind the need to rejuvenate local economies, they have also stressed the need for caution. In other words, we the people of the country, must exercise restraint and take necessary Covid-related precautions. But it is precisely in that respect that we seem to have been failing.
The Centre has said as much. Referring to statistics of the week beginning Monday, June 28, the government noted that Maharashtra and Kerala had recorded more than half of the coronavirus cases registered in the country in the seven days ending on July 4, and flagged as a “serious cause of concern” the rising trend of people thronging tourist hotspots without adhering to Covid-appropriate behaviour.
Presenting a video doing the rounds where hundreds of tourists thronged the Kempty Falls in Mussoorie in Uttarakhand, joint secretary in the health ministry Lav Agarwal said, “Is it not an open invitation for Covid-19 virus to infect us! Spread of infection in the community is linked to our behaviour.”
“The country is still dealing with the second wave, and we need to introspect if we can afford the misplaced belief that Covid-19 is over,” he said, reported PTI.
No wonder the emergencies chief for WHO is calling on governments to exercise extreme caution in fully lifting restrictions, warning that transmission will increase as countries open up. Dr Michael Ryan said transmission would increase when we unlock. “…because not everyone is vaccinated, and uncertainty remains about how much vaccination curbs transmission,” he noted, according to an AP despatch from Geneva.
Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on Covid-19, explained that several factors were driving transmission: the behaviour of the coronavirus and its variants, social mixing, reduced social measures, and unequal and uneven distribution of vaccines. “The virus is showing us right now that it's thriving,” she said.
WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan acknowledged that either it was pandemic fatigue, or sheer compulsion, that was driving people to start moving out of their houses once restrictions were being eased across several countries. But the underlying message in her statement centred around the need to adhere to Covid norms.
In a recent interview to Bloomberg, Swaminathan said Covid-19 cases were rising in five out of six WHO regions, and put out four reasons behind the trend _ the Delta variant, social mixing, ease in lockdown restrictions and slow pace of vaccination.
She said the fast-spreading Delta variant was certainly the most transmissible, most dangerous variant of the coronavirus seen so far and was the primary reason behind the surge in infections. “If one person infected by the original virus could infect close to three people, a person infected with the Delta variant could infect close to 8 people,” she said, according to a report in India Today.
Under these circumstances, responsible behaviour by each and every individual is crucial. Therefore, the need of the hour is to strike a balance between a return toward normality and the need to curb the spread of the virus as vaccinations increase.
So, go to that gym by all means, but ensure its managers follow the norms set and there is no crowding. Go for that morning walk in the park. But do so only if you are fully vaccinated. And don’t forget to wear a mask.
PS: This column (source: Union ministry of health, WHO, CDC) is for general information. For specific concerns, especially for those with comorbidities, it is advisable to consult your family physician.