The number of active cases of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in the country on Sunday again crossed the half million mark after a gap of more than four months, as the second wave of the outbreak continued to expand its footprint forcing several states to enforce curbs on gatherings on Holi.
In just the past week, the country has added more than 178,000 active cases to its tally, the highest ever in the country for any week since the start of the outbreak in March last year.
A total of 68,204 new Covid-19 infections were reported across India on Sunday, the highest single-day increase in cases since October 10, or in 169 days, according to HT's Covid-19 dashboard. The seven-day average of new cases in India (which denotes the country's Covid wave) touched 56,201 on Sunday, the highest since October 21.
As of Sunday night, there are a total of 523,550 active cases in the country. Active cases – those still under treatment – is a crucial metric because it directly reflects the pressure on the health care system in a region as well as provides the number of people who are currently carrying the virus.
During the peak of the first wave, though, the number of active cases in the country crossed the million-mark in the middle of September, but was dropping rapidly since. This receding trend, however, reversed a month ago with the start of India's second Covid wave.
The resurgence of cases has pushed several state governments across the country to enforce strict guidelines on celebrations for Holi, which is on Monday. Experts have urged people not to celebrate Holi with a large number of people, avoid hugging and to maintain social distancing measures such as masks to keep the threat of the outbreak at bay.
In Delhi, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Sunday appealed to the people to celebrate the festival only with their families. A day earlier, officials in Delhi had reintroduced the cap of guests at marriages and other events such as funerals, while the Delhi Police has said patrolling will be intensified during Holi celebrations and strict action will be taken against those who defy Covid guidelines.
Delhi, which is currently seeing the start of its fourth wave of cases, saw 1,881 new infections on Sunday, the highest since December 13 last year.
In Maharashtra, chief minister Uddhav Thackeray on Sunday asked state officials to "start preparing for another lockdown" in view of the rising number of cases, and the failure on part of the citizens to adhere to prescribed guidelines. Like during the first wave, Maharashtra has been the worst-hit state in the country in the past few weeks as well. The case trajectory in the western state has already surpassed the first wave there, data shows.
Punjab on Sunday, meanwhile, became the third state in the country where the daily infection trajectory surpassed records set during the first wave, according to data analysed by HT. In the past week, there have been 2,661 new cases in the state every day – the highest this number touched during the first wave was 2,639. Covid waves in two states – Maharashtra and Gujarat – had already surpassed previous peaks in the last week.
These three states are among a list of 10 states and Union Territories (UT) in the country identified by the Union health ministry that have seen a huge resurgence of cases in recent weeks. The other seven are Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Haryana and Rajasthan.
Experts have said the resurgence is primarily because of overconfidence and laxity among people due to several months of cases being on the decline.
This surge, they said, is dangerous because the overall vaccination numbers are not high enough and thus a vast majority of the country's population remains vulnerable to the virus. According to official figures, around 51.4 million, or less than 4% of the country's population, have received at least one dose of vaccine so far. In total, 60,269,782 doses of the Covid-19 have been administered across the country till Sunday morning, according to government data.
The recent resurgence in infections also coincides with multi-stage state assembly elections in West Bengal and Assam.
"Compliance is low when it comes to wearing masks, maintaining social distance and adhering to Covid-19 appropriate behaviour. That has to be taken care of at the earliest. Other than that, the government has to pace up immunisation. For that, it has to invest more on mobilisation and awareness campaign. There should be no room for hesitance now," said Dr Suneela Garg, director professor of community medicines department, Maulana Azad Medical College in Delhi and member of the Lancet Covid-19 commission and vaccination task force for India.