India reported a grim marker: 400,000 new coronavirus cases within 24 hours, after 10 consecutive days of over 300,000 new cases. It is now averaging over 3,000 COVID deaths each day, with more than 200,000 dead in total.
It's not a wave, it's a tsunami
In early March, India seemed to have the pandemic largely under control and health minister Harsh Vardhan declared the country was "in the endgame" of the pandemic. In the span of a month, the situation has deteriorated dramatically.
The second wave was bound to come, but it could have been delayed or mitigated, if not entirely prevented. The wave surpassed anything that India and the world have seen -- it's a tsunami. Cutting through social and economic divides, the wave struck hard at rural and urban populations, affecting the rich and the poor. The crisis is intensified by inadequate hospital supplies, and stories from those in the front lines are essentially a worst-case scenario.
Like other countries that eased lockdown restrictions too quickly, India is now suffering a major backlash. The problem was compounded by questionable politics, with many politicians denying there's even a problem.
"There was a feeling of triumphalism," said K Srinath Reddy, the president of the Public Health Foundation of India. "Some felt we had achieved herd immunity. Everyone wanted to get back to work. This narrative fell on many receptive ears, and the few voices of caution were not heeded to," he said.
In a recent interview to Indian media, Anthony Fauci also advised a more proactive approach, both in the short and in the long-term, suggesting that a lockdown is pretty much the only way for India to squash the wave.
"There is the immediate, the intermediate, and the long-range. I think the most important thing in the immediate is to get oxygen, get supplies, get medication, get PPE, those kinds of things but also, one of the immediate things to do is to essentially call a shutdown of the country," Fauci told the Indian Express.
"We know that when China had this big explosion a year ago, they completely shut down. And if you shut down, you don’t have to shut down for six months. You can shut down temporarily to put an end to the cycle of transmission."
It's unclear just how much of this is owed to the coronavirus variant in India, but the lessons and the warnings from the situation in India are clear. For starters, we should be careful not to declare a premature victory, and be cautious of political triumphalism.
The only way to be truly rid of the pandemic is through vaccination ensuring herd immunity. Until that happens, the pandemic isn't truly over. Also, in countries like India, with low vaccination rates, short local lockdowns may still be necessary to squash future spikes of infection. As India is clearly showing, the pandemic isn't over yet.