The second wave of Covid infections has put India in a bind with the Centre and state doubling down efforts to bring the worrying situation under control.
Here’s a snapshot of India’s second Covid wave …
A look at the pandemic situation in other nations suggests that the second wave of coronavirus is usually more severe than the first.
Take US for example. The country witnessed its Covid peak as early as April last year. The second peak around July was more severe with the country reporting three times as many cases as the previous peak.
The third peak in January this year was even worse with country touching almost 3 lakh cases in a single day.
In India too, the second wave has been quite severe compared to the first with the country now reporting over twice as many cases as it did during the first peak.
India hit a peak of over 97,000 infections during its first wave in September-October last year. On Friday, it reported 2,17,353 new cases in its highest-ever daily surge.
1 million cases in 6 days
With the coronavirus infections spreading to different parts of the country, the cumulative tally of cases is rising rapidly again.
It took India almost two months to go from the 10-million mark to the 11-million mark in December-February when the cases were on a decline.
However, with the second wave hitting hard, it took India just 6 days to go from the 13-million mark to the 14-million mark.
This has also been the fastest addition of 1 million cases since the outbreak last year.
States reporting all-time high
Earlier, it was just Maharashtra leading the Covid surge in India. Now, the virus is spreading to other parts of the country again — with more intensity.
Uttar Pradesh, which reported a peak of just over 7,000 cases last year, is now reporting over 27,000 cases. Same is the case with Delhi, which is now reporting double the cases that its last year’s peak.
Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat are also witnessing a drastic increase in cases during the second wave, with the states reporting over 4 times as many cases as its previous peak.
Virus settling deep down in lungs
Another worrying thing about the second wave is that the new Covid variant is now settling deep down in the lungs, making detection hard.
Several hospitals in Delhi say there are getting cases where a patient has typical symptoms of the disease but tests negative for the viral infection, sometimes twice or thrice even through RT-PCR, considered the gold standard for Covid testing.
Read also: Why RT-PCR tests are failing to detect Covid
“We have received many such patients in the past few days. They had fever, cough, shortness of breath and the CT scan of the lungs showed lighter-coloured or gray patches. It is referred to as patchy ground glass opacity in medical terms. The condition is one of the defining characteristics of Covid-19,” Dr Aashish Chaudhry, managing director of Aakash Healthcare, said.
He added that some of the patients underwent bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL), a diagnostic method in which a flexible scope is passed through the mouth or nose into the lungs with a measured amount of fluid introduced and then collected for examination, which confirmed the diagnosis.
What could be causing this?
Dr Pratibha Kale, associate professor of clinical microbiology at Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences, said, “It is possible that in these patients the virus didn’t colonise the nasal or throat cavity because of which swab samples taken from these areas didn’t yield a positive result.”
The virus, she added, attached itself to the ACE receptors — a protein found on the surface of many cell types — in the lungs and “that’s why when the fluid samples from the organ were analysed, it confirmed Covid-19 diagnosis”.
Dr Vivek Nangia, the chief of pulmonology division at Max Healthcare, said nearly 15-20% of the Covid-19 patients suffered from this problem.
Covid catching them young
The current wave of Covid-19 is sparing no one, including children.
Delhi hospitals say they are getting infants as young as eight months old with severe symptoms of the disease, including persistent fever and pneumonia, necessitating admission.
Earlier, it was believed that Covid-19 in children was mostly harmless and moderate to severe symptoms, if any, were rare.
“We have eight children admitted to the hospital with severe symptoms of Covid-19 presently. One of them is eight months old. The others are also less than 12 years in age. They have high fever, pneumonia, dehydration and loss of taste, among others,” Dr Suresh Kumar, the medical director of Lok Nayak Hospital, told TOI.
In Bengaluru too, more young children are turning positive.
Last month, 472 kids aged below 10 have been diagnosed with the infection.
In Maharashtra too, data shows that the number of children and adolescents affected in the second wave of coronavirus appears to have increased significantly compared to the first wave.
Data from March showed that 15,500 children up to 10 years of age were among the over six lakh infected in the state.
Experts say the second wave has hit children hard as, unlike last year, many are spending time outdoors. Families, in general, are moving around a lot more, which has increased the chances of transmission.
Deaths also surging
The only silver lining of the second wave of infections was the low fatality rate.
But that is quickly changing as well.
India is now consistently reporting over 1,000 deaths every day, even though the numbers are still lesser compared to last year’s.
Four states reported more than 100 fatalities each in the last 24 hours.
Maharashtra continued to record the highest deaths at 349, followed by Chhattisgarh (135), Delhi (112) and Uttar Pradesh (104). Fatalities were also rising in Gujarat, which recorded 81 deaths, Karnataka (66) and Madhya Pradesh (53).
The death rate in Punjab, which recorded 51 fatalities on Thursday, continued to be the highest in the country at 2.7 per 100 cases.
The national death rate (or case fatality rate) stood at 1.22% and has been dropping marginally despite the rise in cases.
What’s behind the rapid surge?
The Centre has given three main reasons behind the ongoing surge in numbers: Lack of adherence to Covid norms (wearing of masks and social distancing), pandemic fatigue and lack of effective implementation of containment measures at the field level.
The government has repeatedly said that people are not following Covid-appropriate behaviour in public place, which could be a top reason for the surge.
This is, in large part, linked to pandemic fatigue as people feel demotivated about following recommended behaviour to protect themselves and others from the virus.
Experts too have linked the rapid surge to lack of Covid-appropriate behaviour.
They also suggest that newer, more infectious variants could also be leading to a spike.
“A new double mutant has emerged in India and is reported in 15-20 per cent of cases analysed from Maharashtra. If this percentage goes up further, it would be a clear indication of its role in the Maharashtra surge,” virologist T Jacob John had said.
So far, the government has said it is hard to link the current surge to mutant strains detected in the country. saying that the relation between the two remains “speculative”.