Thursday, Jun 23, 2022 08:30 [IST]
Last Update: Thursday, Jun 23, 2022 02:52 [IST]
The masks are off. And so is social distancing and hand hygiene. Have we really learned to live with the virus? Most Covid restrictions across the country have been lifted. Is everything back to normal after 28 months of the Covid pandemic? By the looks of it, it is.
Do people still care about Covid? In epidemiology terms, the pandemic is clearly ongoing. Johns Hopkins points out that "relative to the low point in late March and early April, we've seen more than a tripling of cases" by the end of May, and CDC data shows hospitalizations trending upward. Most of us now say the pandemic is "over," and we are no longer in "the full-blown pandemic phase." Google searches for "Covid" are at their lowest point since March 2020 after hitting an all-time high during January's Omicron wave. Our response to the pandemic is now that of indifference.
But we may be celebrating too soon. It is imperative that things go back to normal soon. The stakes are high. Economies need to be coaxed back to recovery, businesses need to function as before and human beings forced into isolation need to get their social synapses buzzing again. But complacency can be costly, as we found out last year, when we ran blind into a vicious Delta wave. In India, the daily cases are on a steady rise across the country. The main drivers of the high Covid count in India remain Maharashtra and its capital city Mumbai, closely followed by national capital Delhi. Sikkim, fortunately, has been relatively free from the infection these past two months, even after a bumper tourist season, which saw the positive cases register a few new ones.
The Omicron wave peaked in January, when India recorded around 347,000 new cases a day, though most infections were mild, our hospitals did not get overwhelmed, and it subsided quickly. By early March, our seven-day rolling average of daily infections had slid under 10,000. By mid-April, that count was below 1,000. A flat line at a low four-digit level week after week got fingers crossed that Covid was finally turning endemic. While that hope was weakened by an uptick in the second week of June, it was dashed over the weekend by India’s seven-day average, which crept above 10,000 cases per day again—a sign for us to get back on alert. Weary as we are, this isn’t over yet.
We know that the virus will not disappear. Its endemic existence among us would carry the risk of another freak mutation like Delta baring fangs horrid enough to create a health crisis. Our genome tracers took too long to spot that gene twist, and whether or not they’ve got their act up to speed, they cannot afford to let genomic surveillance slacken now. The elderly and immuno-compromised, after all, are vulnerable even to mild variants. We are still largely in the dark on long Covid. There is another reason we must not underestimate the virus.