The exemption on social restrictions during the later phases of the first wave of COVID-19 is believed to have fanned the flames of the pandemonium during the ongoing second wave. It seems that the people were somewhat relaxed after the restrictions were removed and businesses reopened in February
The abrupt upsurge in COVID-19 infections since April in India has terribly shaken the whole country. For the last few days, more than 300,000 daily cases have strained the otherwise very resilient Indian healthcare system.
In fact, at least one out of every three new cases reported worldwide is being recorded in India at the moment.
India is ostensibly battling the extreme deficit of oxygen supply and hospital beds. Taking into consideration the soaring number of COVID-19 infections across the nation, several countries have banned travel to and from India fearing the spreading of the so-called 'Indian variant' of the coronavirus.
Apparently, the Indian government and the public health experts miscalculated the resurgence of the virus to this extent, just months after India appeared to have the pandemic well under control.
The alarm of a possible second global wave of COV- ID-19 had already been reverberated when the British variant was detected in September.
After that, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had advised the global health fraternities to systematically investigate and record the suspected COVID-19 variants of concern.
Aligning with this decree, the double mutant, classified as B.1.617, was identified in samples collected from India early this year.
However, its impact was not thoroughly assessed until the second wave of COVID-19 unexpectedly engulfed the country.
The leading Indian virologist, Dr. T. Jacob John, in his recent interview with India Today, revealed that the younger population, which remained largely unaffected during the first wave, is now being infected.
This seems to be an indicator of higher infectiousness of the new variant of the virus.
The exemption on social restrictions during the later phases of the first wave of COVID-19 is believed to have fanned the flames of the pandemonium during the ongoing second wave.
It seems that the people were somewhat relaxed after the restrictions were removed and businesses reopened in February.
The carelessness of the people was clearly reflected by the omnipresent images and video footages of seas of people attending social gatherings, such as weddings, birthdays as well as cultural, political and religious ceremonies without wearing masks and neglecting the social restriction norms.
The critics are accusing the government for allowing the super-spreader events in the form of political rallies and massive meetings during the currently held elections in five states that encompassed a staggering 186 million people.
Not only the local politicians but also the high profile leadership itself had campaigned across the states, holding jam-packed rallies without masks and with very little physical distancing.
On the other hand, the recently held local elections in some states in Germany and some other European countries show that the elections could be conducted successfully during the pandemic but with due precautions. Notably, an election in Europe is a totally different affair than that in the Indian sub-continent.
The large fanfare without precautionary measures was always going to trigger a surge in infections. Unfortunately, it proved to be a smoldering fire, which flared up badly in India.
In addition, in the month of April, millions of people congregated by the banks of the Ganges River in the holy city of Haridwar to pay homage to the Kumbh Mela, one of the most sacred pilgrimages in Hinduism.
The months-long holy festivals that are held once every three years at one of the four revered pilgrimage sites in northern India are believed to be the world's largest human gathering at one place.
The sight of enormous crowds devoid of masks and without appropriate physical distancing turned out to be another super-spreader event.
More than one thousand pilgrims had tested positive on the first day of the festival, and within days, the frequency of infections skyrocketed in the state of Uttarakhand.
The fear of infected pilgrims carrying back the virus to their respective hometowns is still there.
The high-profile cricket matches that are being played during the pandemic could also be one of the trigger factors in swelling up the infection curve–although the matches are being played in empty stadiums, and recently, the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI) even barred media personnel from entering the stadiums to cover the games or team practice sessions.
However, cricket is a national passion in India, and cricket fans tend to watch the matches even on television in groups throughout the country.
This kind of unorganised gatherings could have also contributed in the fast spread of the virus.
Vaccination has apparently proved to be an important speed-breaker in soaring infection rates of COVID-19. India started the inoculation programme quite enthusiastically, and it even got off to a good start.
However, recent reports show that the momentum of the ambitious vaccination campaigns has been considerably slowed down or even been paused in several states due to a shortage of vaccines.
While this might have contributed in the spread of the infection in the second wave of COVID-19, it is now important to see how much vaccine India, the world's foremost vaccine producer, can export amid this unprecedented domestic catastrophe.
Hence, the above factors seemed to have turned India into a perfect breeding ground for the rapid proliferation of the virus. The situation is precarious at the moment. However, on a positive note, the healthcare personnel in India are trying their best in these dire circumstances. Hopefully, the unforeseen second wave of COVID-19 will be constrained shortly, and India will be able to breathe a sigh of relief soon.
Dr Joshi is Senior Scientist and Assistant Professor of Neurobiology at Martin-Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany
A version of this article appears in the print on May 7, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.