The second wave of Covid-19, if left uncontrolled, could surpass the peak of the first wave, as the experience of other countries shows.
The fact that it is raging at a time when new variants of the Covid-19, including the dangerous P1 variant that is wreaking havoc in Brazil, have all been sequenced in India, is cause for concern.
The situation now is far more grave than it was exactly a year ago, when India started thinking about a lockdown, and finally implemented one at four hours notice on March 25, 2020, Hindustan Times reported.
Given this context, what should India's response be?
One, a nation-wide lockdown is out of the question for two reasons--its impact on a still-fledgling economic recovery would be catastrophic; and after a year of living with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, it is clear that other measures can achieve the same result as a hard lockdown.
Restaurants, perhaps delighted at the prospect of being allowed to operate after what has been many long hard months for them, are paying little attention to social distancingTwo, what should those measures be? There is, of course, the usual Covid-safety protocol of masking, social distancing, and sanitising. This is now being honoured more in the breach than in the observance.
Most people do not wear masks; many, who do so, wear them improperly, as chin guards. Restaurants, perhaps delighted at the prospect of being allowed to operate after what has been many long hard months for them, are paying little attention to social distancing.
And people, tired of isolation and quarantines, are socialising with a vengeance, and holidaying as if the end of the world is nigh (it could be, if they continue to do so).
Most tourist and pilgrimage destinations in India are witnessing huge crowds and the state of Uttarakhand has allowed the Kumbh Mela to go on without adequate Covid-safety protocols (one of the first moves of its new chief minister was to do away with negative Covid-test reports for visitors to the event, which happens once in 12 years, a requirement put in place by his predecessor).
It is time for the Union home ministry to issue a set of guidelines, and it is time for the states to follow these (tightening them, if needed, but not diluting them).
The guidelines should mandate masking, social distancing, limit capacity in restaurants, hotels, malls and multiplexes, place restrictions on religious, social, and cultural events, and, perhaps, even bar inter-state travel.