Coronavirus India

Resurgence of virus in some Indian states after steady fall

Maharashtra and Kerala among places hit, but national downward trend not yet upset

A policeman issuing a fine to a man for not wearing a mask on the streets of Mumbai, capital of Maharashtra, on Monday. The Indian state has seen an increase in coronavirus infections over the past two weeks.
A policeman issuing a fine to a man for not wearing a mask on the streets of Mumbai, capital of Maharashtra, on Monday. The Indian state has seen an increase in coronavirus infections over the past two weeks. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Maharashtra and a few other states in India has had a sobering effect on the country, after a steady decline in infections over the past five months.

The resurgence has yet to upset the nation's overall downward trend in cases.

Maharashtra, which has seen an increase in infections over the past two weeks, registered 5,210 fresh cases on Monday.

The increase has led to a ban on all religious, social and cultural programmes since Monday.

The Vidarbha region was among the worst-affected areas in the state, with lockdown instituted in the city of Amaravati.

Other cities such as Pune have also recorded a rise in cases.

Maharashtra, along with Kerala, which has also bucked the national downward trend, make up 75 per cent of active cases in India.

Three other states - Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Punjab - as well as Jammu in Kashmir have similarly seen cases start to go up, in what officials said was a cause for concern.

Epidemiologists believe the coronavirus is now being transmitted in sections of the population in areas less affected previously.

But they said it was unlikely that India would see a return to the peak in September last year when 97,000 new cases a day were being registered.

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    75%

    Proportion of active Covid-19 cases in India contributed by Maharashtra and Kerala states. Both have bucked the national downward trend.

"The chances of that (returning to Covid-19 peak) happening is very remote. There is no need to panic. It will come down like it came down in New Delhi, which had a second and third wave," said epidemiologist Jayaprakash Muliyil.

"Once the virus stabilises, there will occasionally be some groups, who have isolated themselves carefully and are now starting to go out, getting infected. Such outbreaks will happen."

An apartment complex in the southern city of Bengaluru last week became a containment zone after 103 of its residents tested positive following two parties.

India, the world's second-most populous country, with 1.3 billion people, has been among the worst affected by the pandemic worldwide, with the total number of those infected at 11 million and 156,302 deaths.

There are no definitive answers as to why infection numbers have come down. Epidemiologists and health experts have pointed to everything from herd immunity to a stringent lockdown two months after the virus was first detected in the country. Others have argued greater immunity in South Asia and a young population.

Officials have for now ruled out the possibility of new variants from Britain and South Africa as the cause of the current spike.

"There is no reason to believe these strains are responsible for the upsurge that we are seeing in some districts of Maharashtra and Kerala," said Dr Vinod K. Paul, a member of government think-tank Niti Aayog, who is a paediatrician by training.

"We are still vulnerable. This virus is still around and it surprises us. These are warning signals to us. The virus likes parties and large gatherings," he added.

Experts say the number of cases is likely to fluctuate until the population is vaccinated.

"India's experience so far is that it has been an urban phenomenon. It didn't spread through the length and breadth of the country as many had predicted. But there will be pools of susceptible people in rural areas and in districts which have so far been relatively untouched," said Professor Rajib Dasgupta, chairman of the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

"There will be ups and downs. The rural population is still relatively untouched, as seroprevalence surveys show.

"That is a huge pool of population where we can expect this to smoulder. We can expect this periodic surge. Whether the whole country will see a surge - only time will tell."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2021, with the headline 'Resurgence of virus in some Indian states after steady fall'. Subscribe