People of Kerala were said to have discarded safety measures during the festival.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal to the people on Tuesday to be alert during the festival season—Dasara on 25 October and Diwali on 14 November—is significant in view of Kerala’s experience of resurgence of Covid cases due to public carelessness during Onam celebrations from 22 August to 2 September.
Initially, when the pandemic hit the country, Kerala was the first state to deal with the virus and bring it under control. But, later, the state witnessed a spurt in cases after the large-scale influx of expats from the Gulf countries. The number of cases seemed to be under control until the third week of August, with around 2,500 positive cases per day.
However, complacency among the public on the improved situation as well as the onset of the week-long Onam festivities resulted in a resurgence of positive cases. Apparently, people of Kerala had discarded safety measures during the festival. Immediately after the festival, the daily positive cases climbed to around 9,000.
Kerala’s public health network is struggling to bring the situation under control as all efforts to contain the pandemic have gone haywire due to public carelessness in following safety measures such as mask wearing, sanitisation and social distancing. Kerala’s is an example of how a lot of good work can go waste if people fail to observe norms to tackle Covid-19.
Precisely, this is the backdrop against which the PM had to urge the people to be extra vigilant during the Dasara and Diwali season, until the second or third week of November. These two major festivals in India have the potential to escalate the pandemic, if people fail to follow the guidelines.
This week, an experts’ committee headed by IIT-H (Indian Institute of Technology-Hyderabad) professor, M. Vidyasagar expressed optimism that the Covid situation in the country would come under control by February next year. Vidyasagar, who led the Covid India National Supermodel Committee set up by the Centre, also issued a warning.
He said that the February timeline for decline in Covid cases is possible only if the public maintains all safety measures. Otherwise, the active cases which are currently at around 11 lakh in the country could go up to 27 lakh by February. So, we should not take things for granted on the Covid graph.
Already, there seems to be a degree of complacency among the people. Either due to the fall in number of fresh cases or higher recovery rates—which is as high as 92% in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh—or the relaxed festival season of Dasara, the daily new cases have begun showing a little upward trend.
After falling to below the 50,000-figure mark, the daily new positive cases went up to 55,839 on Friday. The projections on other fronts are encouraging—the daily recoveries are far more than that of the new cases in 90% of the country and deaths are falling to single digits in most states.
Maharashtra, which gave sleepless nights to the authorities till a few weeks ago, is showing improvement—with 8,142 daily fresh cases and 100 deaths (almost 70% fall in the mortality rate from two months ago). Tamil Nadu and AP, which worried the Centre with high prevalence of pandemic cases, too, are showing signs of abatement.
Except for Maharashtra, all the other states are with lower deaths (in double digits) on a downward direction. It is heartening to note that even after Unlock 5.0, which came into force from 1 October, the Covid situation is fast improving. Metro rails are running in all four southern states, bars and restaurants are open and shop-opening time has been restored to normal.
Despite this, the situation is far better than what it was in the beginning of September. More than half of the beds in Covid wards of all hospitals are empty. For example, in the government run Gandhi Hospital in Secunderabad, a major Covid special health care system in Telangana, only 230 out of 1,200 beds are now occupied.
Cinema halls are slowly opening in some cities, but the public response is tepid. A multiplex in Visakhapatnam city cancelled shows after its daily collections were less than Rs 1,000. PVR and Inox are not ready to open their multiplexes until at least 1 November. Dasara is gone, but they hope to capitalise on the Diwali rush.
All these things underscore the importance of PM Modi’s appeal to the public to be cautious during the next few months, until a credible vaccine comes and reaches us all. As he said, Covid cases may have gone down, but not the threat of the virus and its virulence. This is the time to maintain the last-minute alertness, so that we can conquer Covid-19.