“If I had ever been here before I would probably know just what to do; Don’t you?”
That’s the opening line of Deja Vu, written by David Crosby and one of the tracks on the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young album Deja Vu.
As the number of Covid-19 cases rises in Delhi, and its satellites Gurugram, and Noida — from illness to pollution, these cities in the National Capital Region share pretty much everything, one reason why the area needs coordinated management, but that’s another story — there’s a sense that we’ve been here before.
And the truth is, we have.
Horror stories about the difficulties of finding a hospital bed, especially one in a critical care unit, and with a ventilator, are beginning to do the rounds in NCR again, around four months after they last did. Delhi has been recording around 7,000 cases a day on average for the past five days. That’s the highest the Capital has seen and experts expect the number to rise in coming days as the natural consequences of winter, bad air, and festive gatherings play out.
The first wave of the coronavirus disease pandemic started in India in March, and has either ended or is ending now. That’s a run of eight months, punctuated by a 68-day lockdown that definitely slowed the spread of the virus.
The lockdown also roiled an economy that was already not in great shape, and it is only now that some signs of recovery are emerging. Goods and Services Tax revenue has crossed the ₹1 lakh crore (or 1 trillion)-mark in October, the first time it has done so since February; the Purchase Managers’ Index for manufacturing (a lead indicator of manufacturing activity) is up; and several sectoral indicators are in the green, although it remains to be seen whether they stay there after the festive season.
Like other countries that imposed lockdowns, and then lived with the debilitating economic consequences, India is likely to be reluctant to impose a second one. Much of Europe was, although many countries there, including the UK, have finally done so. These countries initially believed they could manage rising cases through focused measures, instead of a general lockdown. Many states in the US find themselves in a similar situation now as the number of cases in the country soars to unprecedented levels. The 7-day average of daily new cases in the US was almost 107,000 on Saturday night. The 7-day average of deaths is around 900, less than half of the peaks it saw in April, but US media reports say that deaths are rising in at least half the 50 states in that country. The country’s efforts to deal with the second wave will likely be crimped by the fact that the incumbent President, whose leadership during the pandemic has been questioned, may well choose to continue to disregard science and data for the two more months that he stays in charge.
If the pandemic breaks in waves — and it is increasingly becoming clear that it does — then, apart from the Union territory of Delhi, the states that need watching are Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Gujarat. In April and May, these were the states driving the pandemic’s early march in India. In late April, these states accounted for most of the cases in the country. All of them would do well to step up their testing, review their hospital infrastructure, and proactively enforce targeted measures (restrictions on gatherings of any kind, curfews for shops and restaurants, limits on the number of people who can work from office, and other such).
Many of these regions appear to be either going slow or have entirely abandoned their sero-surveys of the population to test for Covid-19 antibodies as a way to measure the prevalence of and exposure to the infection. That data could prove invaluable now.