India Covid-19: Top India doctors say third wave inevitable

Huge crowds seen at Shimla in Himachal Pradesh in July, 2021.

Daily new cases in India have fallen to just over 40,000

An organisation of top Indian doctors has warned that a third wave of Covid is inevitable as travel restrictions ease across the country.

Photos and videos of tourists flocking to popular destinations have gone viral in recent days.

Videos show that most of them are not wearing masks or maintaining social distancing in public places.

Daily new cases in India have fallen to just over 40,000 in recent weeks, down from the peaks of 400,000 in May.

The drop in numbers has largely been attributed to strict lockdowns by states which are now being eased.

But even as cases are declining, experts worry India could be at the risk of a potential third wave of infections as just over 6% of the eligible population has been fully vaccinated and around 22% have received at least one dose.

The Indian Medical Association (IMA), an organisation that represents doctors in India, on Monday said it was “painful to note that both the government and public are complacent and are holding mass gatherings without following Covid protocols”.

“Tourist bonanza, pilgrimage travel, religious fervour are all needed, but can wait for few more months,” the IMA said.

It added that opening up these destinations and letting unvaccinated people congregate in these large gatherings are “potential super spreaders for the Covid third wave”.

As India emerges out of a deadly second wave – that saw overwhelmed hospitals and crematoriums overflowing with the dead – several states have opened up to allow tourists and religious gatherings.

But experts worry about the repercussions of these gatherings.

Naga Sadhus (Hindu holy men) take a holy dip in the waters of the Ganges River on the day of Shahi Snan (royal bath) during the ongoing religious Kumbh Mela festival, in Haridwar on April 12, 2021.

Experts fear large religious gatherings could could act as Covid “super spreaders”

In April, millions gathered in the Himalayan town of Haridwar to participate in the Kumbh Mela festival even as several cities grappled with a severe shortage of oxygen and hospital beds. Several of the returnees – who came from all parts of the country – tested positive in the following days.

Now, authorities in Uttar Pradesh state are gearing up to hold the annual Kanwar Yatra festival from 25 July. Experts say that India needs to enforce safety protocols strictly and further speed up the pace of vaccination to avoid a third wave.

India is vaccinating around four million people every day, but it needs to reach 8-9 million per day to reach its target of vaccinating everyone above the age of 18 by the end of this year.

Some states are also grappling with shortages. On Tuesday, several public vaccine centres in Delhi were closed after they ran out of jabs.

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