India needs a short but broad lockdown to break the coronavirus transmission chain and allow the medical community to recover, according to the National President of the Indian Medical Association.
The South Asian nation is experiencing a disastrous second wave of Covid infections. Cases began to rise in February, and in the following months large crowds gathered for religious holidays and political demonstrations in various parts of the country, mostly without masks.
There are also growing concerns about potentially more contagious new strains of the virus.
On Friday, India reported 332,730 new cases of infections within 24 hours, according to government data. For the second consecutive day, India recorded the world’s highest increase in infections in a single day.
“Most of our hospital beds are full. But I still believe the infrastructure is good enough to meet people’s needs,” JA Jayalal told CNBC’s “Capital Connection” on Friday. The Indian Medical Association is one of the largest professional organizations in the country representing doctors.
You need an “extended lock”
While some states have stepped up social restrictions, including night curfews, others have moved to partial lockouts.
“But that’s not enough,” Jayalal said. “We need a large lockdown, at least for two weeks, and this will allow hospitals and the medical community to recover, emphasize and empower our hospital infrastructure to address the crisis.”
During the first wave of infection, India imposed a national blockade between late March and May. Although it ultimately helped reduce the number of cases, the blockade had a severe impact on India’s growth trajectory, leaving millions without income and jobs.
With the economy still struggling to get back on track, experts have suggested the government may be reluctant to impose another national bloc.
Jayalal said India’s health system is “at breaking point” and if cases continue to increase rapidly over the next two weeks, the consequences could be “disastrous”. So far, many cases have concentrated in ten states, including Maharashtra, the epicenter of the second wave, he explained.
“We are now in the process of moving resources to areas in need, but even that will only have a limited effect. If the trend continues beyond this level, we will surely find ourselves in a dire situation.”
Over 4 million new cases in one month
In April, cases increased significantly: India reported over 4 million cases as of Friday and at least 24,452 people have died. Media reports suggest that the actual death toll could potentially be higher.
The high number of infections has exacerbated the pressure on India’s medical infrastructure. Overwhelmed hospitals are turning away critically ill patients due to bed shortages. Severe oxygen deficiency, partly due to uneven distribution between states, has led to the deaths of many patients with Covid-19. The government has since diverted industrial oxygen supplies for medical use.
On April 22, 2021 in New Delhi, India, healthcare workers in personal protective equipment (PPE) stand in alert mode outside the Covid-19 ward of Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.
Sonu Mehta | Hindustan Times | Getty Images
Jayalal said India needs more medical personnel as frontline doctors are “almost relaxed” and psychologically drained. He explained that medical professionals have called on the government to speed up processes that would allow young doctors and medical students to get involved in the treatment of Covid patients.
“We need intense warfare from the government and health workers right now,” he added.
India’s vaccination campaign, one of the largest in the world, is also facing supply challenges. The country has administered more than 135 million doses and recently the government approved grants for local vaccine manufacturers to increase production capacity.
Danny Altmann, a professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said Friday he was “very concerned” after India recorded the world’s highest daily count of Covid infections for the second consecutive day.
“If you remember that it was only a few months ago that we were saying that India was doing pretty well and was less affected than other countries and how can we explain that? And now we have this incredible devastation there, really terrifying things coming from India”, Altmann told CNBC’s “Street Signs Europe”.
“While we cannot prove it to be the cause at the moment, my feeling is that this is associated with the spread of this new B1617 variant which is seen in about 60% of cases.”