‘Vulnerable to 2nd wave, India must consider limited lockdown in hotspots’

With India vulnerable to a second wave of the Covid pandemic, All India Institute of Medical Sciences Director Randeep Guleria feels in order to contain a further surge, a limited lockdown in hotspots and extensive contact tracing, where volume of cases is high, can be considered along with a micro-plan to prevent leakage into other non-containment areas.

In an exclusive chat with IANS, Guleria said the wave of Covid cases may flatten by end July or early August. He urged not to compare India with European nations like Italy and Spain. He said focus should be on 10 key cities that continue to contribute extensively to the spike.

People must continue to follow social distancing, wearing mask and other precautions at least for a year, even after cases begin to decline, the AIIMS Director said, as India reported close to 17,000 cases in 24 hours and crossed 4.7 lakh in just five months. India which was steadily unlocking to return to new normal found a number of states issuing lockdown in parts most affected by the virus as cases mounted quickly.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: Reports say China and South Korea are witnessing a second wave of coronavirus infection, what is this second wave, is India also vulnerable to this?

A: When cases come down significantly, people tend to drop their guard against the viral infection, and this leads to the second wave (which means a sudden increase in the number of cases). After cases begin to decline, people should continue to follow the precautions — continue to maintain social distancing and wear masks regularly.

See what happened in Singapore, it was struck by a second wave of coronavirus.

Look, what happened in the 1918 pandemic, people dropped their guard and the second wave of viral infection struck. If people do not follow social distancing then the spike in cases is apparent. We need to take these precautions at least for one year. India is also vulnerable to this second wave.

Q: If Covid-19 cases continue to rise rapidly, do you think we need another lockdown in areas where volume of cases are very high?

A: A large volume of cases is concentrated in specific areas like hotspots, and in order to maintain things in order, we may need a limited lockdown in these areas. This should be followed by a micro-plan which entails extensive testing of people and also extensive contact tracing of people who have got in touch with positive people.

Need to ensure there is no leakage of cases from these areas. People from these areas should not mix with others in non-containment areas. This will aid in containing the outbreak of the virus. People who have developed symptoms should get themselves tested, especially in the containment areas.

Q: With more than 4.5 lakh cases and close to 14,500 deaths, do you think India has reached its peak and a decline in cases is possible?

A: The cases will continue to increase for some time. The doubling time of cases has also increased. But, the cases will also begin to flatten. Though, it is difficult to give an exact time period in this viral infection, it seems, the growth in cases will flatten in the end of July or beginning of August.

A decline will come to this viral infection, but it does not mean that people should drop their guard. As a measure, we need to decrease community participation and citizens should continue to follow social distancing. People should get themselves tested. All these efforts will help in preventing people from contracting this virus. These precautions will also prevent us from the second wave, and we must continue to take precautions. The virus has not gone away, it is still lurking.

Q: India has crossed the 4.5 Lakh coronavirus cases so far, although our recovery rate is good, but still over 16,000 cases have started being reported. Why do cases continue to spiral, what is the reason?

A: We have to remember a few things — the bulk of cases are in 10 cities, nearly 70 per cent, and if we take into account cases per million population, the number is not very high, as compared to countries, including those in Europe. Many European countries put together still do not add up to the Indian population.

Do not compare India to countries like Italy, Spain etc. We need to focus on hotspots, which contribute to between 70-80 per cent of cases, and we have to identify cases in these areas at an early stage.

The population density is very high in these cities. People in lower socio-economic status are highly vulnerable to the viral infection, as many live together in small spaces and there is a lot of mixing of people happening there. Look at the market places, people are not following social distancing and not wearing masks. In fact, many are in close vicinity of each other.