India’s battle against the coronavirus disease pandemic has hit a rough spot. Three developments — the surge in cases in the Capital, the sustained increase in Maharashtra, and the spike in cases in six states receiving migrants — point to the challenge at hand. India’s biggest cities, its most densely-populated states, and its northern rural hinterland are simultaneously seeing the spread of the pandemic, and they don’t seem equipped to deal with it.
First, take the situation in the Capital. It has a little over 31,000 cases, but as Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal outlined on Wednesday, the city may see 532,000 cases by the end of July, and will need 80,000 beds. He claimed that since the city’s hospitals will also be open to those from outside, the requirement for beds could be closer to 150,000. For context, the city has a little over 9,000 beds. This means the Capital has to ensure a 15-fold jump in the availability of beds — which, in turn, will also require additional health care personnel, personal protective equipment, and oxygen and ventilator support. This surge is happening at a time when testing has reduced, although this can be remedied. Two, on Tuesday, Maharashtra crossed 90,000 cases, with Mumbai having more than 50,000 cases. It was also the ninth straight day when the state recorded more than 100 deaths in a day. While authorities expect the curve to begin flattening in the state by the end of June, new clusters are emerging. With Unlock 1.0 in force, there is an even higher possibility of the spread of the disease.
And finally, as a data-based analysis in this newspaper showed, six states — Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal — have seen a spike in cases. They contributed 8% of the cases nationally in the first week of May; this jumped to 16% between June 2 and June 8. They accounted for 10% of the deaths in the same period in June. All these states have also been receiving migrant workers. They also have relatively poor health infrastructure. A state of the size of Uttar Pradesh has just 31 testing labs. The number of cases is still relatively low, compared to the rest of the country, but the pattern is clear. All of this indicates that while governments must keep an eye on reviving the economy, they must not let the focus dissipate from the health challenge. There is no quick fix, except following the science protocol laid out — test, trace, isolate, treat. Then rinse, and repeat.