New Delhi: Crowded roads, cricket matches without masks, and Sunday fish markets are not things you imagine when India is on the verge of leaving Brazil behind and only trailing the US as the worst Covid-affected country. Unfortunately that was a reality in Chennai, as it got its first lockdown-free Sunday, in months.
With a massive spike of 90,632 cases, and 1,065 fresh deaths, India’s Covid-19 tally on Sunday crossed 4.1 million to reach 4,113,811 cases. This has helped India inch closer to Brazil, which is the world’s second worst-affected nation, and possibly overtake it shortly. But as India stares into earning that dubious distinction, is it the southern states and Maharashtra which should take the blame for this situation, as per the data which shows a majority of cases, deaths and new containment zones in this region.
Maharashtra is India’s worst-affected state. According to the Union Health Ministry website, the state has seen 2,6276 corona related deaths so far, the highest in India, as well as 2,21,012 total active cases and 6,36,574 cumulative cases.
Pune is now the worst-affected in the state with NCP supremo Sharad Pawar camping there and Union Minister Prakash Javadekar and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar recently visiting it to review measures. As many as 11 districts in the state are declared as “districts of concern” by the Centre. Despite this, state Health Minister Rajesh Tope continues to cite the spread to reasons like high rate of testing, inter-district travel and easing of restrictions.
But almost all states and Union Territories have gone in for a graded unlocking process, and many of them have been able to moderate, if not control the spike. With Chief Minister Udhav Thackeray himself accepting that the next three months will be challenging, the opposition BJP claims the state government is living in denial. State BJP leader Kirit Somaiya alleged that Maharshtra has a shortage of ICUs as well as beds.
After Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have seen the highest coronavirus-related deaths. In fact, as the rest of India was reopening its economies and slowly opening malls and restaurants, parts of Tamil Nadu went off a near total lockdown to curb the curve.
Tamil Nadu has 51,583 total active cases amid its tally of 3,98,366 and toll of 7,748. No wonder then, as the state also goes into unlock mode, it has decided to increase its Covid bed capacity in Chennai, expecting a sudden rise of cases, over and above the current rate of spike.
This Sunday, Twitterati, particularly those from Chennai woke up to photos of its Somasundara Ground clogged with youngsters playing cricket. With multiple matches going on at the same ground, social distancing has been reduced to a joke. With this being ten first “lockdown-free Sunday”, in several weeks, Chennai roads were packed with cars, autos and two-wheelers, bringing the concept of “do gaz ki doori” to naught.
Then, there was a huge crowd at the Kasimedu fishing harbor, with Chennaites thronging to buy fresh fish, many without masks. Temples and churches were open on Sunday, with no semblance of “new normal”.
Meanwhile, in Karnataka, which has seen 6,298 deaths so far, the government blames it on the unlock procedure. More than one health official told IANS that they strongly feel that opening up of the economy coupled with increasing the number of tests in the recent weeks has resulted in substantial rise in Covid-19 cases in the state.
Speaking to IANS, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike Commissioner, Manjunath Prasad concurred that the gradual lifting of lockdown in June-July onwards has resulted in cases increasing in Bengaluru. “We did planning for lockdown, but it is also true that many people who came from outside towns, states, and countries did not follow the quarantine procedures, thus it spread to a large extent. Besides this, post-lockdown, many did not show up for tests at the early stage, which is now resulting in rise in Covid related deaths as well,” he added.
He complained that people in Bengaluru were not following precautionary measures such as wearing masks and many were not wearing it properly to cover the nose as well as the mouth. “Although the BBMP is keeping strict vigil on those who flout mask rules, it is authorities cannot keep an eye on each and every individual in the city like Bengaluru,” the Commissioner added.
As of Sunday, Andhra Pradesh’s Covid tally stands at 4,98,125, the second highest in the country after Maharashtra. The pandemic has also claimed 4,417 lives in the state so far. For the last 12 days, Andhra has been witnessing a daily jump of over 10,000 infections. The state’s mortality rate stands at 0.89 per cent as against the national average of 1.73 per cent.
With over 40 lakh tests, Andhra is one the states with highest testing average in the country and uses it as a reason for the massive spike in cases. The state has conducted 76,927 tests per million as against the national average of 35,206, claims officials.
A senior official in the Health Department said: “At 78.41 per cent, the recovery rate in the state is also better than the national average of 77.23 per cent. So far 3,94,019 people have recovered from the virus.”
Officials said in addition to testing facilities and hospitals, the Health Department strengthened ambulance services across the state, while the state government claims to be spending daily Rs 10.18 crore on Covid. However, the spike in cases doesn’t seem to tell a tale of success.
Telangana, which reported one of the early COVID cases in March, recorded 1,40,969 cases as of Saturday while the death toll stands at 886. However, state health officials claim that the situation in Hyderabad, which was a cause of concern earlier, has now been controlled to a larger extent with the daily jump in cases dropping from 800-900 a month ago to 300-400 new.
“The numbers have gone up in districts in recent days but we are confident that by the end of September, the situation will be under control in the entire state,” said Director of Public Health and Family Welfare, Srinivas Rao.
In Kerala, which had recorded the country’s fist case, the situation has not gone as bad as in Andhra or Karnataka, but is on an upward scale. There have been 533 fresh active cases and 11 deaths in the last 24 hours alone.
But what can not be discounted is that all these states put together accounts for more than 18 lakh of India’s over 31 lakh cases, which is more than 50 per cent. While it is true that many other states and UTs like Delhi and Uttar Pradesh have seen cases go up, this southern block’s collective performance raises the question whether India, south of the Vindhyas, is slowing the fight against coronavirus?
With photos of scores of youngsters playing cricket at Chennai’s Somasundara Ground, throwing all rules of social distancing up in the air, wing viral on social media, it becomes a pertinent question to ask.