Superspreader events like weddings behind new Covid surge: Govt panel
Superspreader events such as weddings appear to have driven the resurgence of Covid-19 in India, according to preliminary assessments by the Union government that has also found people becoming less careful in recent months when the outbreak had receded to its lowest levels after the virus first emerged in India.
On Friday, India recorded more than 40,000 cases – the highest since late November. This number is close to four times the roughly 11,000 being recorded on an average every day in the second week of February.
“That (role of superspreader events) is what it looks like, as people have become lax in their behaviour. We must understand that there is still a large section of population that is vulnerable, especially in villages. We cannot afford to lower our guard at this stage, and should avoid mass gatherings as it can become superspreading events,” said Dr VK Paul, member (health), Niti Aayog.
“Also, testing, especially RT-PCR testing has to increase in districts that are reporting high positivity rate,” he added.
State authorities in Punjab said they had found at least 30 super-spreader instances, where more than 10 cases were recorded from a single event.
State’s nodal officer for Covid-19, Dr Rajesh Bhaskar, said exact details about these events were not available but cited some instances: a wedding in a family from Amritsar in Delhi, which led to 20 infections from 38 who were tested; a funeral in Mohali, in which eight of 18 tested were positive, and an office of the Punjab government in Chandigarh where nearly 70 of 132 employees tested were found infected.
“In around 75-80% of the cases, patients were found asymptomatic or with mild symptoms. Contact tracing, after one person from the event was found, led to detection in these functions,” said the nodal officer, who asked not to be named.
Doctors in Delhi also blame weddings, social outings and get-togethers for the current surge in cases.
“I have personally seen several cases where groups of people got the infection at a wedding. There are cases where five to six people in one group who travel for a destination wedding get it. Then, there are kitty parties where four to five people have contracted the infection. We need to change our behaviour, there is no other way to control the spread of the infection. These events are not a necessity and should be avoided,” said Dr Surajit Chaterjee, senior consultant, internal medicine at Indraprastha Apollo hospital.
Dr GC Khilnani, former head of the department of pulmonary medicine at All India Institute of Medical Sciences and chairman of PSRI Institute of Pulmonary and Critical care, said, “There was euphoria among people when the number of infections in the city went down as does in any viral infection naturally. With over 50% of the population exposed to the infection, the transmission slowed down. But, people gathering for events such as weddings led to an increase. This is exactly what happened after Dussera and Diwali.”
He said he has seen super-spreading events where thirty to forty people at a wedding party contracted the infection.
Sars-Cov-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, has been established to spreads through droplets and as aerosolised. So, whenever people eat in groups and pull down their mask, the risk of contracting the infection is very high. Plus, air-conditioned environments are the worst as the virus can remain airborne for 3 to 16 hours if there isn’t proper ventilation.
“Festivals and wedding are a hotbed for infections as people tend to forget to take precautions. I know of instances where 40 to 50 people in a wedding got the infection,” said Dr Rommel Tickoo, director of internal medicine at Max healthcare.
A large gathering of people in a funeral turned into a superspreading event in a south Indian state recently, when 33 people got infected after attending a funeral in Karimnagar district of Telangana on February 18.
“The mass infection was due to people not following of Covid-19 guidelines such as social distancing and wearing masks,” said G Srinivas Rao, director of health.