Before mid-February 2021, the pandemic seemed to decline gradually. With the consequent return of people to normalcy, none suspected the diametric reversal of the state of affairs. The situation, thereafter, started to worsen everyday. The stark rise in the cases has now reached almost four lakh cases per day. The Indian government (as well as the people) was reluctant to declare the change as the second wave. Understandably, the economic crisis and tiresome lockdowns made the people frown upon the idea of another series of lockdowns. But, the predicament after March forced the government to declare it the second wave and begin control measures. The second wave seemed to have taken our country in its grip as the news of increasing death count and infection count kept coming in. The stark difference between the previous phase of the pandemic (that began last March) and the current second wave is that the youth are getting affected more and are being susceptible to the deadly new variants that seem to have clasped our country firmly.
The variants B.1.617 and B.1.1.7 have been detected in the central parts of Maharashtra and in New Delhi respectively. The variant B.1.1.7, which is being traced mostly in New Delhi, was previously found in the UK during the later months of last year. Although countries like the UK in the west have managed to decay the variant and are in the process of returning back to normalcy, the ordeal in India is far from over. Since April, the grim reality has been shattering us with news on struggles for beds in hospitals, improper vaccine drive, grisly battles for oxygen supply and fully occupied graveyards and crematoriums coming in. The misery is such that even the able and wealthy cannot get a bed in hospitals for their loved ones in need.
The reason for the sudden spike in virus cases in India and the second wave remains unclear even to the scientists and researchers. This is primarily because India is conducting very less number of genome sequencing which has resulted in insufficient data to parse through and arrive at a conclusion. But, it would be drivel to blame the prevailing new variants for the increasing number of cases in our country. Several other reasons can be listed to which the prevailing second wave can be attributed. Firstly, the laxity of the public as soon as the first wave began to die down is the most important reason and it is not ignorable. People loitered in streets and actively took part in various outdoor activities ranging from running errands to engaging in fun and frolic. Going to gyms, swimming pools and cinema halls, dallying around the shopping complexes and attending festivals like Kumbh Mela made people susceptible to the virus.
Secondly, the impetuous decision of opening schools and colleges by the government added salt to the wound. This was followed by a series of missteps by the government like permitting people to attend large-scale events like Kumbh Mela and opening theatres, markets, shopping malls and other public places prematurely. Moreover, the low vaccination rate that was nowhere close to the estimated percentage within the first six months of its inception is a major factor that caused the second wave. Wastage of available vaccines did not allay the situation and has only led our country beseech USA to give back some of the vaccine that was exported to them by us recently.
It is crucial for India to begin taking remedial actions as soon as possible. The first step towards that would be to understand the nature of the pandemic and to act towards resolving it by learning the steps that should be able to effectively end it.
What will the end of the pandemic look like? Where to begin in the labyrinth of disorder and confusion to reach that end? It is necessary to weigh up these questions now more than ever. From the first wave, we understand that the cases spike to reach a certain peak from where it starts to make a visible descent. It is evident that our failure to maintain the descent has caused the curve to go upward again resulting in the second wave. Irrespective of whether we know when the second wave will reach its peak, we can begin working towards bringing the curve back down which can be followed by the maintenance of the descent of the curve.
An article in the New York Times written by Zoe M. McLaren explains this phenomenon as exponential growth and decay. Exponential growth in the case count happens in a pandemic due to the multiplying chain of transmission of the virus. Especially in a country like India with enormous population density, the transmission rate is huge, leading to an exponential growth of the number of virus cases. This exponential growth can be prevented by taking appropriate measures like getting vaccinated and following social distancing protocols.
As and when the exponential growth is prevented through corrective measures, the phenomenon of exponential decay can be achieved. Exponential decay is simply the opposite of exponential growth and in simple words, it is good news. ‘Exponential decay means case numbers can halve in the same amount of time (as that of the time it takes for exponential growth)’ to quote Zoe M. Mclaren. As quickly as the cases rise during the period of exponential growth, the cases can also fall quickly during the period of exponential decay. This also means that the higher the cases, the higher the decay and as a result, when the number of cases becomes low, the rate of decay will also be low.
We would have noticed the exponential growth during the second wave since mid-February this year. As we work towards the exponential decay in the number of cases, we should be extremely careful not to slack off the efforts when we get past the threshold into exponential decay. It is natural to hold off the precautions and protocols as the situation improves. But, the key to complete recovery from the pandemic lies in sticking to the preventive measures even when the rate of increase is low. Not following the safety measures is the reason why the upsurge of the second wave is sending tremors across the country. We should be careful not to repeat the mistake once again.
Exponential decay will eventually lead to herd immunity that will serve as the end to the pandemic. Even the countries in the west have a long way to reach herd immunity and so it is extremely early for India to discuss herd immunity. However, knowing our destination is a key to motivating oneself to work towards that goal. Herd immunity can be achieved through proper and complete vaccination and continued process of following social distancing protocols like wearing masks and sanitising regularly.
Understanding the concept of exponential growth and decay and herd immunity is absolutely vital to discern our role in putting an end to the pandemic. What can we do to help bring the pandemic to the end? The role of each one of us is extremely important in defeating the virus. And we can achieve that by following the rules diligently. Always use masks and sanitise your hands while you are out. Duly avoid all the impulses that tell you to loiter outside. Do not frequently run errands; delay them as much as you can. Postpone your travelling plans and find peace at home. Work from home.
Pandemic can have a traumatic effect on individuals. So, make sure you work out often and do mindfulness exercises and meditation. In serious cases, approach a psychiatrist or psychologist and talk it out.
And finally, get vaccinated. Vaccination is the key to achieve herd immunity which is practically the end to the pandemic. Vaccine hesitancy must not be encouraged as it hinders the vaccine drive and postpones the desired result. It is understandable that people can grow suspicion on the authenticity, efficacy and side-effects of vaccines. But, it is also necessary to comprehend the fact that not getting vaccinated will only make one prone to the transmission of the virus.
It is not impossible to overcome the pandemic if we diligently do our part. With synchronized effort, taming the disaster and reaching the end to the rampant virus outbreak can actually be achieved sooner than we expect.
-Subiksha Kumar (Freelancer)
Picture: Credits – Atul Loke / The New York Times)