Mumbai’s Marine Drive wears a deserted look as Maharashtra government has imposed a curfew between 8 pm and 7 am in view of the rising COVID-19 cases. (Image: ANI)
As India suffers from a massive second wave of COVID-19, with a record-breaking 115,736 cases reported on April 7, many states, most notably Maharashtra and Delhi, have imposed night curfews to stop the spread of the virus. However, as other countries’ experience has shown, night curfew is not very effective in preventing the transmission, and to tackle this second wave, we need to adopt a smart testing and tracing strategy, along with social distancing and masking.
As Maharashtra and Delhi governments announced semi-lockdown and night curfew measures, the central government wrote to them stating that these measures have minimal effect in stopping the transmission, and to better tackle the current situation, we need better containment strategies. Night curfews are effective in places that have a very active nightlife, and in India, apart from metro cities, it is an ill-informed strategy to follow in most other places. They are at best a stop-gap measure.
Further, these measures don’t take into account the economic cost of inactivity borne by businesses, which is already reeling from last year’s drastic measures. There is no apparent medical benefit in enforcing night curfews except to prevent localised gatherings, and they only affect healthcare access and economic activity, not COVID-19.
More effective measures would include stopping the congregations at religious places, political rallies, local trains, as even one person at these events can be a super-spreader. Even if people are gathering in large numbers, we need to ensure that they are following proper social distancing norms and are masking to protect themselves and their loved ones.
Even as we implement night curfews, we have schools and colleges re-opening, which defeats the point of stopping the transmission of the virus. If we are going ahead with school re-openings, we need to ensure that they have effective sanitisation and PPE kits available. In India, classroom strengths are huge, and the chances of virus transmission increase drastically in such closed spaces. Hence, we need to look at implementing a hybrid model with small attendances in school and distance learning with digital tools. Furthermore, we need to vaccinate teachers on priority as they provide an essential service during these challenging times.
Boost Testing And Vaccination
The second wave in India is far more lethal as a new ‘double mutant’ COVID-19 strain, first found in the United Kingdom and California, is transmitting. We need to adopt a smart testing and tracing strategy, which focuses on ensuring equitable, cost-effective and scalable testing and tracing for all; and at the same time reducing the burden on healthcare providers.
Moreover, we need to supplement our capabilities in detecting emerging variants of the virus and need to build genome surveillance capacities to get ahead of future waves of COVID-19. In India, we need to strengthen the molecular surveillance with epidemiologic studies that can better inform the testing and tracing strategy. But more so than ever, we need to open vaccinations to all people above 18 years of age as soon as possible, before an escape mutant appears.
India should target the top five states for massive testing and vaccination with the highest caseloads, as they account for 80 percent of active cases nationally. States should try to influence the central government to decentralise the vaccination process so that states can best decide who can be vaccinated first to limit the spread of the virus.
Testing, tracing and vaccination drive should be further sub-categorised to target hotspots. If we are able to limit the spread of the virus in this massive second wave to major cities, the process becomes easier afterwards in rural and remote areas. This must be done on a war-footing.
The state administrations should be proactive and given complete freedom in identifying hotspots to deploy testing, tracing quickly, and vaccination infrastructure as and when required on short notice. India should continue to aggressively test and trace and couple it with vaccination, so as to significantly negate the impact of the virus on the lives of the people and the economy at large.
We can beat this second wave also, as we did the first wave, but with more sensibly policies and social responsibility, and not ad-hoc measures.