India’s financial hub is reeling under its worst Covid-19 surge so far

Writing on the wall.
Writing on the wall.
Image: REUTERS/Niharika Kulkarni
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India seems to be edging closer to a fresh surge in Covid-19 cases.

Yesterday (March 21), the country registered 43,846 new cases of novel coronavirus infections, the highest daily spike of 2021 yet. After the turbulent months of October-December, where the daily new cases were on the rise because of India’s festive season, the months of January and February brought new infections to below 15,000 per day. Many epidemiologists also said that it was likely that the country had put the worst of the pandemic behind already.

Daily new Covid-19 cases in India.
Daily new Covid-19 cases in India.
Image: Our World In Data

The consistently rising cases since the beginning of March threaten to overcome those gains. Currently, the state of Maharashtra is seeing the greatest surge of new Covid-19 infections. Over half of India’s total new infections came from the western state alone. At 3,775 new infections yesterday (March 21), Mumbai, the state capital and India’s financial capital, saw its highest-ever surge since the beginning of the pandemic in India a year ago.

The current spike is despite India’s ongoing vaccination drive, which began on Jan. 16 for frontline and healthcare workers and on March 1 for the elderly and vulnerable populations. So far, India has administered 44.6 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine.

The rising number of cases is likely because of lax masking and social distancing behaviour, though the mutant, more transmissible strains of the virus cannot be ruled out. “There is a loss of Covid-appropriate behaviour. Now people feel that the pandemic is over because vaccines are here. So they fail to wear masks. We see large crowds gathering—again without masks. Many of these crowded events have become super-spreading events,” Dr Randeep Guleria, chief of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, told NDTV  yesterday.

“The other issue is that we have become lax in the basic principle of testing, tracking, and isolating than what we were doing six months ago. The third point is that the virus itself is mutating and some of the variants are more infectious,” he added.

In Mumbai’s Dadar and Shivaji Park markets, for instance, large crowds continued to gather over the weekend despite strict social distancing guidelines in the city. Large regions of the state are also currently under lockdown.