August has begun on a disconcerting note in India’s coronavirus story . The seven-day weekly average of cases hovers around the psychologically important 40,000 mark and there is an uptick in daily new cases with the latest numbers a little over 41,000. A major concern that has assumed national proportions is the trajectory of cases in Kerala. With nearly 20,000 fresh cases being added every day, it is of concern that if a State with an admirable track record during the earlier wave is under siege now, then many other States could be particularly vulnerable against new variants at the start of a third wave . In Kerala, the rise in cases is concomitant with a rise in testing that has increased from 130,000 a day on July 25 to 162,000 as of Monday, indicating that the infection may be rapidly spreading. Nearly 11 States are now showing a weekly increase in cases. Kerala is not the only point of concern. The national situation has prompted the Health Secretary to write to States that all districts reporting a positivity rate of more than 10% in the last few weeks ought to consider strict restrictions to curtail the movement of people and formation of crowds to prevent the spread of infection. Apart from Kerala these include Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Assam, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Andhra Pradesh and Manipur. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has also expressed concern that 46 districts are showing more than 10% positivity while another 53 districts are showing a positivity between 5%-10%. India’s positivity rate is around 5%, that could well descend into a runaway climb in serious infections if unchecked.
The ICMR’s flag-waving comes in the context of the agency’s Fourth National Serology Survey finding that nearly 40 crore Indians likely lacked antibodies to the virus and were particularly vulnerable. On its own, the rise in infections would have been less of a concern had a substantial number of Indians — particularly those over 45 — been double vaccinated. As in previous waves, the elderly continue to be the most vulnerable. Nearly 80% of the mortality was from these vulnerable age groups and only 11% of the eligible adults have been fully vaccinated, which means significant numbers of the population are yet to get sufficient protection. India has so far administered 47.1 crore doses since the beginning of the vaccination drive in January. The Centre has said it will vaccinate all adults, 94.4 crore approximately, by the year-end. This target requires a daily inoculation of 90 lakh to 100 lakh doses per day. For most of July, the average inoculations have ranged from 30-60 lakh. States whose districts are most vulnerable ought to be given preference and there should be accelerated campaigns to double inoculate the elderly. Every effort should be made to break the link between infections and hospitalisation and deaths.