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Monday, April 12, 2021

Rising COVID cases in Maharashtra: Why is it a matter of grave concern?

What is appalling is the least amount of regard people are paying towards face masks and social distancing at present. And that could be a major reason for Maharashtra's COVID spike.

Maharashtra saw a rise in about 17,000 new cases of the Coronavirus as of Tuesday. The state seems to be slipping into a disturbing territory again this year with newly induced lockdowns, restrictions and COVID-related hospitalizations. Maharashtra and Karnataka are the worst-hit states in what the health experts are calling the second wave of the Coronavirus in India. Thus, the most important question now — why Maharashtra has a fresh spike in COVID cases? Why could the rise of Coronavirus cases in Maharashtra be a matter of grave concern? Let’s find out what experts have to say.

Several medical practitioners across the country have said that the pattern of rising cases and infection among people is quite common for the Coronavirus. However, what is appalling is the least amount of regard people are paying towards face masks and social distancing at present. Drop in the cases in the first few months of the new year and opening up of economic activities had led to increased mobilisation of people. However, experts agree that this might have led to higher levels of community transmission. The government has so far said that foreign variants of the Coronavirus such as the UK one, have no role in the current surge. A Financial Express report had earlier highlighted how people have let down their guard and the testing levels were decreased simultaneously, which has led to the fresh spike in the COVID-19 infections. India also saw one of the highest spikes in COVID cases in just a day last week.

In Maharashtra, currently the worst-hit state in the country, the number of COVID-19 cases have been growing at a rampant pace. Some cities and districts have also imposed lockdown and severe curbs in order to control the spike. “Corona cases are increasing, if the situation deteriorates then lockdown will be announced in districts that will report more cases,” Health Minister Rajesh Tope said recently. Around 20 lakh people in Mumbai have been fined for not following COVID norms in the past few weeks.
Every day of the last month, for the first time since mid-January, Maharashtra reported more than 3,000 new cases of Coronavirus infections. The new cases to have cropped up in the second week of February were at least 14 per cent more than the first. In the week ending on Sunday (February 14), 20,207 new cases were detected across the state, compared to 17,672 in the previous week (February 1-7). In the week prior to that (January 25-31), the state had reported a total of 17,293 cases. “It is not a red signal yet, but definitely a yellow warning. We have to take steps to ensure that this does not become red,” Dr Shahank Joshi, a member of the state’s COVID-19 task force, had said in February. However, things don’t look quite positive for the state now.

Why Maharashtra has a fresh spike in COVID cases?

As experts pointed out, a major reason could be the reopening of the local trains for the general public in the Mumbai region. But that does not explain the increase being witnessed in Vidarbha. State surveillance officer Dr Pradeep Awate stated that the recently-held gram panchayat elections could also have also played a major role in the increase. “Some areas in Vidarbha and Marathwada had reported more than 80 per cent voter turnout during the gram panchayat elections. It could have led to the spread of the disease. For instance, the Tivsa tehsil in the Amravati district is now showing a 32.7 per cent positivity rate. That means, every third sample is testing positive,” Awate said. “Similarly, the Sasurve village in Rahmatpur, Koregaon Tehsil, of Satara district recently reported 62 new infections. This village has a total population of only 1,900. Election campaigning and voting had seen good crowds in these areas,” Awate, who has been visiting some of these areas to understand the reasons for the surge, added. The state surveillance officer suggested that marriage functions and other family events, that had to be postponed because of the virus spread last year but are beginning to take place now, could also be a major contributor. That is also one of the reasons why the restrictions on such gatherings have been brought back. Some of the recent restrictions include:
– Guestlists at family functions, including marriages, or other events cannot exceed 50
– A complete ban on processions, protests, and rallies for the time being
– Buildings, complexes, residences to be sealed if multiple positive cases emerge
– Stringent fines for people not following norms of social distancing or not wearing face masks in public

“It is not uncommon to see gatherings of 400-500 at marriages or other events these days. But from now on, the rule of not more than 50 invitees would be strictly enforced. Also, people would have to wear masks at these functions,” Dr Rahul Pandit, a member of the state’s COVID-19 task force, said. Dr Shashank Joshi said there is also an atmosphere of carelessness and a notion that the pandemic is over. “We cannot let our guard down and use Covid fatigue as an excuse to not wear masks. In fact, like in the United States, there is a need to start using double-layered masks,” he added, emphasising why Maharashtra has a fresh spike in COVID cases in recent months.

What is the administration doing to keep the rise in check?

Several districts in Maharashtra saw a steep rise in cases in the past few weeks. Kalaburagi, for instance, has constantly been reporting double-digit positive cases since the first day of March. In efforts to restrict the spread of the Coronavirus, the administrations in the border districts have tightened the containment measures including setting up check-posts at Karnataka – Maharashtra border to ensure that only those who have negative reports enter the state. “Kalaburagi district is reporting an average of 35 cases a day for the 10 days. We have formed four mobile squads with health, police and civic personnel and deployed them at different places. These mobile clinics are visiting the areas where positive cases have been reported and enforce the containment measures including isolating the primary and secondary contacts of the infected persons after collecting their throat swab samples. We have also set up a check-post at Kalaburagi railway station to ensure that only those with COVID-19 negative reports enter the city,” Rajashekhar Mali, District Health and Family Welfare Officer, told The Hindu.

Other measures include the increased target of daily testing, contact tracing of positive cases, implementation of guidelines for public functions and the shutting of educational institutions in cities and districts unless the situation is somewhat under control.

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