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Covid-19: What you need to know today

Delhi's fourth wave is ebbing with the same intensity with which it climbed — and one of the main reasons for this is clearly the lockdown.
By R Sukumar, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAY 11, 2021 06:09 AM IST
In the short term, faced with a surge in infections that could overwhelm the health care system, a lockdown helps.

Delhi announced a lockdown on April 17. It saw 24,375 new coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases on the day for a weekly average of 16,225 cases. Its positivity rate on the day was 24.6% for a weekly average of 16.5%.

The corresponding numbers for May 9 were 13,336, 18,374, 21.7%, and 25.3%.

The seven-day average of cases peaked at 25,294 on April 23; the weekly average positivity rate at 32.9%, on April 26, 27, and 28.

The city-state’s fourth wave is ebbing with the same intensity with which it climbed — and one of the main reasons for this is clearly the lockdown.

It isn’t just Delhi. Maharashtra announced stringent restrictions on movement and activities (although it wasn’t a full lockdown) on April 13 (it effectively started the following day), on a day Mumbai saw 7,873 new cases (weekly average: 8,952) and a positivity rate of 19.01% (weekly average: 18.73%).

The state was likely late in announcing the lockdown. The seven-day average of cases in Mumbai peaked at 9,862 on April 10; the weekly average positivity rate at 20.55% the same day.

The corresponding figures three weeks later, on May 9, were 2,395 new cases, 2,884 weekly average, 7.34% positivity rate, and 9.24% weekly average positivity.

Mumbai had another advantage: it never witnessed the scramble for hospital beds and oxygen that Delhi saw, with anecdotal evidence suggesting that this rush for resources that were either not available or not accessible caused more infections.

The evidence is pretty much irrefutable: in the short term, faced with a surge in infections that could overwhelm the health care system (or which already has), a lockdown helps; and it takes around three weeks to show results.

With Karnataka and Tamil Nadu announcing a complete lockdown for two weeks starting May 10, and Kerala one starting May 8 (the government has said it will last till May 17, but will likely extend it), three states that, in the past seven days, accounted for a little over a fourth (28%) of all Covid cases in the country, should also start seeing a turnaround by early June.

As the map shows, about 80% of India’s population is now locked down.

Unlike last year — and perhaps because of the criticism it faced over the economic fallout of the 68-day lockdown between March 25 and May 31 2020 — the Union government has steered well clear of announcing a lockdown, leaving it to the states to do so (and therefore, cop all criticism for it). Lockdowns, despite their efficacy in the short term, are hugely harmful to the economy. That’s the reason many states and Union territories (Maharashtra and Delhi included) tried to put off announcing a lockdown for as long as possible. Even today, some states do not like to refer to a lockdown by that name.

Which is why vaccinations matter.

When a state or UT manages to vaccinate (if even partially) 40% of its population, it can pretty much allow most activities to resume, albeit with adequate non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs; the wearing of masks, social distancing, a ban on large events) and restrictions (allowing restaurants to operate at 50-70% capacity, for instance). Some experts believe that the results will start making themselves felt when even 25% of the population is vaccinated.

Delhi has thus far managed to vaccinate (with at least one dose) around 4 million people — around 27% of the eligible population. It isn’t that much of a stretch to argue that at least some of the decline in cases and positivity rates the Capital has seen in recent days is on account of this. Mumbai has vaccinated (with at least one dose) 2.6 million people — around 23.6% of the eligible population.

But because India will be short of vaccines for at least a few more months (and, most likely, even longer), local governments will find themselves having to resort to the occasional lockdown even as they work towards optimising vaccine doses to reach that 40% mark. They can then allow most activities to resume, with so-called NPIs, as they strive to vaccinate at least everyone who wants to be vaccinated.

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