Alarm bells ring as infections rise in Covid-hit Indian cities

·3-min read

Coronavirus infections spiked in India’s national capital Delhi and other nearby cities as experts blamed the surge on the abrupt easing of health restrictions, the reopening of travel and reckless behaviour.

India posted a 66 percent rise in daily cases on Wednesday with 2,067 new infections, but down from a staggering hike of 90 percent it reported just two days earlier.

Mathematicians tracking the pandemic warned infections could rapidly rise in the country, which has reported 43 million cases and 522,000 deaths although the tally is disputed as an undercount.

“The new numbers are a fraction of the 400,000 cases India was reporting daily last summer but still we need to be cautious,” a senior health department official told RFI.

Bracing for onslaught

The authorities raced to prepare for a potential surge after 11 successive weeks of decline in the number of Covid-19 cases in the country.

The mask mandate returned to national capital Delhi and two nearby states as India reported 2,451 new cases on Friday.

Delhi state administration started handing out booster shots free of charge to adults between 18 and 59 years in the city of 20 million residents.

Elsewhere in India, the third shot priced seven Euros a jab is free only for frontline workers and people above 60.

Nepal voiced fears the Indian surge could again buffet the Himalayan nation already devastated by the pandemic.

“Past experiences tell us that cases will start spiking in Nepal too after two weeks,” Sher Bahadur Pun, chief researcher at the Kathmandu-based Tropical and Infectious Diseases Hospital said.

Naresh Trehan, who heads India’s upscale Medanta healthcare facility, warned danger lurked in the country where less than two percent of its 1.3 billion people have received vaccine boosters.

Words of caution

“We were getting some comfort that overwhelmingly it is Omicron which was proving to be little mild and people did get sick for three, four days and most recovered,” he said.

“But now we are also seeing the odd case of Delta coming back and that is disturbing because if it is lurking in the background and if Delta comes back then remember how devastating the second wave was,” Trehan added.

Anurag Agarwal, a former chief state scientist, insisted India was better off than the US, grappling with immune-resistant Omicron or Hong Kong where the infectious mutant has pushed the mortality rate among the highest yet in the pandemic.

He argued 80 percent of city folks developed immunity through vaccination and the Delta wave that killed 180,000 people in April-May last year.

“This combination of very high background infection which came during the Delta wave followed by a massive vaccination programme gave us a lot of hybrid immunity which means that we would have very few vulnerable cases,” the scientist told NDTV.

Srinath Reddy, another top public health expert, said India seemed to have learnt a lesson from the Delta wave when corpses were cremated on Delhi’s parking lots after city crematoriums were overwhelmed.

“Our health systems are much better prepared now with equipment and facilities. We are geared up with homecare facilities and our hospitals are better equipped with oxygen,” he asserted.

Clash with WHO

The alarm bells rang after the government disputed a recount of Covid deaths by the WHO that suggested India’s toll was higher than disclosed.

"The concern specifically includes how the statistical model projects estimates for a country of geographical size and population of India and also fits in with other countries which have smaller populations,” the government said.

Political opposition targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government over the row and analysts like diplomat Bhaswati Mukherjee urged Delhi to register a protest with the UN Secretary-General’s office.

The British medical journal Lancet has put India’s Covid death toll at four million.

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