A wave of anxiety

As worrying as the sudden spurt of COVID-19 cases in the Capital is, doctors are even more concerned of the scientific reasons behind it

A five-year-old virus infected girl, who is a cancer patient, clutching her mother’s fingers outside a hospital building, ambulances filing in and out of Lok Nayak Hospital every three to four minutes, and distress calls by patients for hospital beds and medicine. These are some of the images that linger from last week, when another wave of the pandemic swept across the city, a wave so strong that cases and deaths surged to an all-time high on Sunday.

To handle the spike in cases, the Delhi government linked hospitals, banquet halls and other buildings to increase the beds for COVID-19 treatment. The government also imposed a weekend curfew, besides invoking strict restrictions like closing malls, spas and banning dining facilities at restaurants.

On Sunday, Delhi reported 25,462 new cases, the highest since the beginning of the pandemic. The spike in cases is sharper this year and Sunday’s cases are 812.6% higher than the number of new cases on April 1.

Unpredictable pattern

“We can’t predict a peak at this point. Some models have said that Maharashtra will peak in the first week of May, which means it will take a little more time for Delhi to peak. But we can’t completely rely on any model,” said Giridhara R Babu, Professor at Indian Institute of Public Health in Bengaluru.

Experts said that the government should do more genome sequencing. “Genome sequencing has to be done with epidemiological investigations to understand the virus better. This is what the US and the UK have been doing,” he added.

When asked about symptomatic patients testing negative in RT-PCR, he observed: “The sensitivity of the RT-PCR kits is about 70%. That means it will miss 30% of positive cases, even without variants. But at this point we don’t have enough data to prove whether the variants or mutations are responsible for it.”

More children infected

Doctors said that more children are getting infected compared to last year. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said that 65% of the new cases in the past 10-15 days were below 45 years of age.

Jugal Kishore, head of the community medicine department at Safdarjung Hospital, said that the government should focus on providing healthcare facilities more than controlling the spread of the virus.

“The virus has spread everywhere now. The focus should be to reduce the deaths,” Dr. Kishore added.

Both experts said that there is not enough data or proof to establish the exact reasons for the current surge.

“One is that clinically, we think that the virus has become more infectious, but we don’t have data to establish this. Also, it is because of changes in the virus. If 15-20% of the samples are double mutant strains of the virus in Maharashtra, the same mutation has to be there in Delhi as people keep travelling between the States,” said Dr. Kishore, when asked about the surge.


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