Festival season, small gatherings aid spread of Covid-19, warn experts
The caution was also sounded on Tuesday by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who said the lockdown may have gone but the virus hasn’t, and people must maintain precautions till a vaccine is administered to the masses.Updated: Oct 21, 2020, 02:03 IST
Small gatherings at home, jagratas, and shopping trips during Navratra is likely to lead to a surge in Covid-19 cases in Delhi, according to experts who pointed to infection trends following some recent festivals that seeded new infections in states like Kerala and Maharashtra.
The caution was also sounded on Tuesday by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who said the lockdown may have gone but the virus hasn’t, and people must maintain precautions till a vaccine is administered to the masses.
“We have seen an increase in the number of cases after festivals – take the example of Ganesh Chaturthi in Maharashtra or Onam in Kerala. This is because people gather in large numbers and do not follow preventive measures like wearing masks, washing or sanitising hands, and maintaining social distance,” said Dr Rommel Tickoo, associate director of internal medicine at Max hospital, Saket.
The Capital too recorded a post-festival surge, which was evident following the Rakshabandhan and Eid weekend (July 31 to August 3).
While India overall has recorded a sustained decline in new infections, Delhi has been reporting over 3,000 cases for a week (except on Sunday when fewer tests are conducted). On Tuesday, 3,579 cases and 41 deaths due to the infection were reported from Delhi.
At a time when much of the current concern has been linked to large gatherings at Durga Puja pandals, experts said small gatherings at homes can also lead to a spread of infections. In the United States, for example, officials from Centres for Disease Control (CDC) found that small household gatherings were driving the pandemic and issued fresh warnings for Thanksgiving.
“It is festival season and gatherings will happen. The problem is that people tend to get relaxed with their relatives around and do not follow safety measure. People eat together with their masks off at a distance lesser than 6ft. There are children around and you cannot keep an eye on them all the time; they might not get a severe form of the disease but they can transmit it to others who might develop severe symptoms,” said Dr Shobha Broor, former head of the department of microbiology at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
Dr Suranjit Chaterjee, consultant of internal medicine at Indraprastha Apollo hospital, agreed. “Families tend to come together during festivals, increasing the risk of transmission of Covid-19 from younger members who might get the infection from outside and pass it on to the elders, who in turn may develop severe symptoms. So, to protect everyone, even the young members of the family have to curtail their movement and try to stay away from the elders,” he said.
Speaking or singing loudly
At gatherings, people also tend to speak loudly or, at events like Jagratas, even sing. This too can spread the virus readily.
“If you look at the evidence, when people are talking loudly or are singing, more virus is emitted and it travels further, increasing the risk of transmission. This is the reason several choirs and other such events have become super-spreaders,” said Dr Lalit Kant, former head of the department of epidemiology at the Indian Council of Medical Research.
A study from Lund University in Sweden shows the number of aerosol particles emitted when a person just breathes is 135/second. This doubles to 270/s when they talk normally. However, when they talk loudly, this number shoots up to 570 particles/s
A person was noticed to having emitted 690 aerosol particles per second when singing (opera) and 980 particles per second when singing loudly. The emission dropped to 410 particles/s when the person sang loudly, but with a mask on. The particle emission was measured for 14 singers.
“But people have a habit of taking off their mask when speaking to someone. This should be avoided, people need to keep their masks on at all times,” said Dr Broor.
Air pollution levels are already on the rise in Delhi – an AQI of 223 was recorded on Tuesday – and it might further shoot up with Diwali just around the corner. “An increase in the number of cases is expected; the effect of Navratra and Durga Puja will be felt after ten to fifteen days. By then, it will be time for Diwali. The ensuing increase in pollution levels will also lead to people developing severe disease and more and more people needing ICU care,” said Dr GC Khilnani, former head of the department of pulmonology at AIIMS.
A study from Italy showed that Covid-19 mortality in northern part of the country stood at 12% as compared to 4.5% in the rest of the country. The researchers associated the high mortality with higher levels of air pollution in the region. Another study from Europe – Italy, France, Spain, and Germany – showed that 78% of all the Covid-19 deaths happened in five regions with higher levels of Nitrogen Dioxide. And a study by Harvard University showed that with every 1 μg increase in PM 2.5 long term exposure, the Covid-19 mortality went up by 8%.
“When over 1 lakh people have died in India and over 10 lakh across the world, people need to understand that the situation is not normal and exercise constraints. They should give celebrations a miss this year,” he said.