Mask up, maintain social distancing, to beat the second Covid wave

Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi

Congregations in flagrant violations of Covid-19 norms across the country reveals the misplaced overconfidence of the masses that seem to think that the deadly pandemic is gone, and above all the emergence of a vaccine for the virus is making them foolishly bold.
The accelerating numbers in virus inflictions, first with a heavy spike in Maharashtra and then witnessing a similar alarming increase in the number of cases in Delhi, Karnataka, Punjab, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. What is more disconcerting is that the rate of increase of cases is very steep – with active Covid cases crossing the 4-lakh mark, hitting the fastest 1 lakh rise ever.
According to credible reports, the second wave of Covid 19 cases is expected to peak in mid-April and could last till May end. A report by the State Bank of India estimates the total number of cases to surge to 25 lakhs across India and this projection is based on the numbers till March 23.
This sudden spurt in cases, after they ebbed all across India barring Maharashtra, has given rise to speculations and apprehensions of a fresh lockdown. In Maharashtra the Government is toying with the idea of another lockdown if the cases continue to rise with the frequency they are rising and so are other cities considering drastic moves. Already, Sunday curfew has been imposed in few cities of Madhya Pradesh.
However public health experts are divided over the efficacy of a further lockdown and wonder whether such a move could help check the spread of the pandemic. What is more important is following Covid protocols, maintaining cleanliness, personal hygiene, wearing a mask and sanitizing hands, and keeping a safe distance. These are the precautionary safety measures that can help people keep the virus at bay, rather than a lockdown.
Perhaps keeping this in view, the Telangana Government has ruled out a lockdown, but has given instructions to step up testing, tracing, and treatment. Karnataka has once again put in place restrictions on entry into the State with a directive that anyone entering the state from April 1 must have a Covid-19 negative certificate – whether you arrive by road, train or air.
Other States too are mulling similar steps to keep a check on the pandemic.
The Union Government too has allowed vaccination of everyone above the age of 45, to increase the numbers of people getting vaccinated. It has also launched an awareness drive that the vaccines are safe and that everyone eligible ought to take the jab. Celebrities and political leaders have been advising people to take the vaccination and once majority of the population is vaccinated India would achieve herd immunity.
The Government of India has even stepped in and calibrated the export of vaccines, so that we have enough and adequate quantum of vaccines for domestic use. India has so far provided 60 million doses to over 75 countries. But with cases increasing in India, the Government has decided to calibrate exports so that we have enough for domestic needs.
But even after vaccination, the danger lurks. On these the medical health experts issue a word of caution: all precautions must be taken, whether one took the vaccination or not. There can be a vaccination for Virus, but not for stupidity, is the one strong message from the medical corps that is at its wits end witnessing the mass congregations, and wanton disregard for masking up.
What is more worrisome is that this disregard for Covid 19 protocols and guidelines from the medical fraternity could lead to the rapid spread of the virus, and which in its second wave is apprehended to be more dangerous. For the present, the rate of the spike is higher in urban areas as compared to rural regions.
Now, if we as a Nation are not careful, it could cost us the revival of the economy that has begun to take place.
Growth figures present an encouraging sign, although a bit feeble at present, and we need to do nothing that can adversely affect it. In fact, remarks of RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das on vaccination roll-out, greater awareness of the pandemic, any remote possibility of a lockdown like the one witnessed last year give a clear indication of what the Government could do at this juncture when the second wave hits the Nation.
But health experts are unanimous that it is human behavior that can save the Nation from the extreme adverse impact of the second wave. In fact, it is the human behavior that will drive the second variant, doctors aver to drive home the point that masking up, social distancing, and sanitizing are the perfect deterrents. And there should be no slackness on this count, till the virus is completely defeated across the globe. So, whether one likes it or not, we have to live with these as the new normal, for a long, long time to come.
It is in this context it must be viewed the restrictions being announced in Holi celebrations. It would be a good idea to listen to the medical fraternity and avoid celebrating the festival, in the same manner as one used to before the Covid-19 pandemic struck. Or else, one risks contracting the virus and spreading it around as well.  
At the risk of repeating myself, I would like to reiterate the advice of the health experts, there should be no letup in maintaining social distancing, masking up when outside house, and sanitizing self and surroundings. Whenever one sees scenes of crowds at markets, religious congregations, and even political rallies, most of them without masks and social distancing, one shudders to think what is in store for us.
Fortunately, reports of a rapid increase in cases have not yet come in from any of the five poll-bound States, but this is no license for us to not behave. Covid is very much there, a lurking danger, and we must be serious in taking measures to save selves.
In Andhra Pradesh, the famous temple that attracts crowds – Balaji temple in Tirupati is being closed for devotees, and in Kumbh mela in Uttar Pradesh, Covid negative certificate has been made a must to participate. Likewise, Karnataka has also made it mandatory for new entrants into the State to carry negative certificates.
At least three Indian airline carriers have made no mask, no fly rule and many organizations are putting in these restrictions.

Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi is a senior journalist tracking social, economic, and political changes across the country. He was associated with the Press Trust of India, The Hindu, Sunday Observer, and Hindustan Times. He can be reached on [email protected] and Twitter handle @kvlakshman