Heat stress and summer illnesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic can be quite debilitating and life-threatening to vulnerable sections, say experts
Just when the government and people were beginning to believe that the COVID-19 virus surge
was easing and life was finally returning to normal after enduring a gruelling year, the sense of relief turned out to be short-lived with the resurgence of the pandemic.
For the States like Andhra Pradesh with a tropical climate, the second wave, coupled with the crippling summer fatigue and burnout, comes as a double whammy. The virus spread at a time when the scorching sun is wreaking havoc, is adding to the misery of people living in poorly-ventilated, crowded homes. Low income slum-dwellers who have poor or no options for self-quarantine for maintaining the required hygiene levels and vulnerable sections like older people who are susceptible to both, heatwave conditions and the virus, face a potent threat.
The government machinery is gearing up to battle the fresh wave of the pandemic while the local municipal authorities are engaged in prevention of heat-related illnesses. Use of the personal protective equipment (PPE) by health and medical staff and workers in the field in this sweltering heat can be a physical challenge. To optimise endurance, the persons donning the coveralls need to lower their body’s core temperature by hydrating and recovering in shifts lest the heat stress can increase.
Experts believe that the second wave is being fuelled by people who are less cautious. After being confined to their homes for nearly a year, large chunks of people have begun to attend weddings and family functions without taking minimum precautions. No restrictions were imposed on political campaigning, religious gatherings and festivals that saw unmasked people conveniently moving away from the stipulated COVID-appropriate behaviour. “Heat doesn’t seem to have any direct effect on the spread of the virus but the Medical and Health authorities should watch out for ailments like gastroenteritis, which see a slight increase in summer,” says Dr. T.V. Narayana Rao, physician at Andhra Hospitals. About the pandemic, he says now that the variants seem to be existing in India, caution is the word.
Medical professionals have been doing their bit in educating people on the need to adhere to COVID-appropriate behaviour. “A false sense of invincibility is adding to the problem. People have become callous. They should realise that immunity can be attained only after a gap, post the second dose of the vaccine,” says Dr. Murali Krishna Ganguri, a diabetologist and endocrinologist at Manipal Hospitals. Raising serious concern over ‘misconceptions’ on the efficacy of the vaccination, he says media should do a responsible job. ‘Infectivity’ and ‘mortality’ are two different things. “People neglecting precautions are being infected while people with poor baseline health contribute to the mortality rate.” Talking about the possible variants of the virus in widespread circulation, Dr. Ganguri says the only hope is that vaccination will play a part in controlling the wave.
Yet another gloomy phase stares in the face for businesses, especially small traders and micro-entrepreneurs. “Last year, we battled an unprecedented crisis on account of the outbreak of the deadly virus. Business came down by almost 60%,” says Karumuri Ramesh Babu, president of the Vijayawada Dal and Kirana Merchants’ Welfare Association. “Our buyers are mainly owners of local hotels, managements of school and college hostels and organisations like Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation of the Indian Railways. The money circulation stopped and there were no bulk sales during the lockdown. With a spurt in positive cases now, I shudder at the thought of one more such dark phase,” says Mr. Ramesh Babu.
M. Rama Gopala Rao, executive member of the Vijayawada Taxi Owners’ Welfare Association, has no clue how to survive a fresh blow of coronavirus. “We are unable to fend for our families in the wake of the spiralling prices of petrol and diesel. COVID has added to our woes,” he rues.
Just when the sight of crowds of people brought cheer to Kothamasu Venkateswara Rao, the virus raised its ugly head again. “My daily bread and butter is directly linked to crowds. I was looking forward to making a decent income in May, considered to be auspicious for weddings and other functions, but it looks like a repeat of last year’s cycle of income loss,” laments Rao, who runs Sree Bharat Shamiyanas near Ratham Centre on Canal Road.
Tummalapenta Srinivasulu, who runs a general stores on Kotha Vanthena Road, said the government should scale up awareness on the need for preventive measures and ramp up vaccination. “The situation calls for a door-to-door vaccination drive. When the government can do it for ration distribution, why not for COVID vaccination,” he says in a matter-of-fact way.