Security Exchange News

Second wave sparks Covid-19 crisis

10 May 2021

A major second wave of Covid-19 has hit India hard in recent weeks – making it the second worst-affected country during the global pandemic, second only to the US. India overtook Brazil last month and has continued to report new records for daily figures almost every 24 hours. The country’s current Covid-19 caseload now stands at more than 21 million confirmed cases – a number which is expected to continue to rise. Medical experts also estimate that millions of undetected cases could mean real figures could be five to 10 times higher than the official tally. While daily case numbers have begun to decline over the last week, testing numbers have also dipped, furthering fears the country’s true caseload is far higher than outbreak data suggests.

Many have blamed the surge in cases on the lack of public health measures. Outdoor religious festivals and ‘mask-less’ rallies are thought to have played a major role in increasing transmission and spread of the virus. The Indian government allowed religious gatherings such as the Kumbh Mela, which saw more than nine million Hindu pilgrims converge on Uttarakhand to bathe in the Ganges river.

The global implications of India’s second wave are significant, with at least 17 countries having already reported cases of the highly infectious B.1.617 variant which was first discovered in India in March. Several variants have emerged worldwide since December 2020, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) listing three variants found in the UK, South Africa, and Brazil as “variants of concern”, while the Indian variant remains a “variant of interest”. All types of variants have been detected across India. Health officials in New Delhi recently confirmed that the “double mutant variant,” which emerged in India earlier this year, has been linked to the deadly second wave which has engulfed the country. A double mutant is categorised as when two existing mutations of a virus come together as a singular variant of the virus. The government’s top scientific adviser recently warned that a third wave of the virus was becoming increasingly inevitable as the B.1.617 variant becomes more widespread.

The sudden increase in Covid-19 has already led to a severe healthcare crisis in India, as hospital beds and oxygen supplies run short. Dozens of Covid-19 patients have died as a direct result of disruption to oxygen supply lines as the country’s healthcare system continues to be overwhelmed by the influx of coronavirus patients. Crematorium spaces have also been in increasingly short supply. The Supreme Court recently ordered the government to submit a plan to supply New Delhi’s hospitals with oxygen within 24 hours but stopped short of punishing officials for failing to resolve the oxygen shortage crisis. On Thursday 06 May, India reported a new record-high daily increase in Covid-19 cases, following a brief period of decline in numbers. As cases continue to rise, calls for a nationwide lockdown have also increased. While state-wide lockdowns and curfews have been imposed in the worst-hit areas, many large rural areas remain unregulated with reduced testing and deaths going unreported. The government has been reluctant to impose another national lockdown, due to concerns surrounding the extensive impact it would have on the country’s economy – which is still struggling to recover from last year’s strict lockdown. With the country’s vaccination programme unable to meet ambitious targets, pressure is expected to continue to mount on the government to enforce stricter nationwide measures.