COVID-19 cases surge despite the lockdown

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) advised the government to carry out house-to-house surveillance in each district to actively identify people showing symptoms of COVID-19.

Despite the ongoing lockdown, the latest data available on mygov.in/covid-19, as on May 24, there are 73, 560 active cases of COVID-19, of which 54,440 have either been cured or discharged. The total number of people who succumbed to COVID-19 stood at 3,867. Back home in Manipur, it has been reported that the total number of COVID-19 cases increased to 32 on May 24. Of the 32, 28 cases are active while four patients have recovered from the ailment. No COVID-19 related death has been reported in Manipur so far. The surge in the number of cases across the country and in the state is a cause for concern even if India has exhibited its ability to contain COVID-19 related deaths. Observing the situation, one cannot help but find possible reasons behind the surge while some countries have reportedly flattened the curve.  

In the first week of April 2020, it was reported that the Government of India’s top scientists laid out conditions for lifting the COVID-19 lockdown. According to a report by article-14.com, the government of India ignored that advice and evolved its own criteria, still unclear to states. The result is a surge in cases and ever-changing criteria.  The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) advised the government to carry out house-to-house surveillance in each district to actively identify people showing symptoms of COVID-19. The ICMR also asked the government to quarantine those detected with symptoms as quickly as possible without awaiting test results.  It was suggested that the lockdown in every district could be lifted only when these conditions were met. Accordingly, ICMR’s advice in the first week of April was reviewed by article-14.com as the council laid down criteria for easing the world’s most-stringent lockdown.

The scientists had warned that these were the “only effective intervention (sic) known” and “cases would rise again if no intervention was in place.” They also said that “without local monitoring and data, relaxing lockdown may not be considered”. However, despite six weeks of lockdown and two extensions later over 49 days, the government has neither put in place the nationwide house-to-house surveillance mechanism nor is it following a “decision-making tree” suggested by the ICMR to lift the lockdown, reports article-14.com. The report said that instead of following the advice, the government decided upon a set of opaque parameters—the details of which it has not revealed to state governments—to assess the lockdown’s effectiveness and decide relaxations across 700 districts nationwide. The result of ignoring experts’ advice has been a surge in cases despite the lockdown, in contrast to downward trends in some countries, said the report.

When the lockdown began on March 24, the government had detected 618 active COVID-19 cases. By May 11, there were 67,000, a rise of 10,741 per cent, with 4,213 cases added the same day, the largest single-day increase, coming 48 days after the lockdown began. On May 7, 15 major cities, including Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Ahmedabad, accounted for 60 per cent of cases. These cities have stayed locked down. Yet, the cases flow in. Mumbai began the lockdown with 67 cases; by 11 May, it had more than 13,000, up 19,303 per cent; Delhi had 35 active cases, by 11 May 7,233, up 20,565 per cent; Ahmedabad 14 on 25 March; by 11 May, 5,818, up 41,457 per cent, said the article-14.com report.

According to the Union Health and Family Welfare Ministry order issued on April 30, the government decided to ease restrictions by classifying districts as red, orange or green zones on four parameters: active COVID-19 cases, days it takes for cases to double in the district, “the extent of testing” and “surveillance feedback”. A red zone would see the strictest lockdown restrictions and a green zone the minimum.

In another order on April 30, the government did not reveal to states how these four parameters would be used in combination to lift restrictions. The health ministry’s order only said: “It is further highlighted that based on field feedback and additional analysis at state level, states may designate additional red or orange zones as appropriate. However, states may not relax the zonal classification of districts classified as red/orange as communicated by the Ministry.”  The article-14.com report said that a day later on May 1, the home ministry, extending the lockdown, reiterated its decision: “States and UTs may not lower the classification of any district, that is included in the list of Red Zone (Hotspots) and Orange Zone by the ministry of health and family welfare”. Despite the efforts, India is learning to live with COVID-19 and the citizens can only wait and watch.

 

 

First Published:May 25, 2020, 12:18 a.m.