The doctors’ body expressed grave concern that under the looming threat of an “inevitable and imminent” third wave of mass infection, people are becoming “complacent and engag[ing] in mass gatherings” around the country.
IMA’s press release comes in the nick of time when the annual pilgrimage Kanwar Yatra is set to start from July 25, which follows into the next few weeks into August. The mass mobilisation sees crores of Kanwars (devotees of Shiva) from the country’s northern states converge and gather at the banks of Ganga at Haridwar in Uttarakhand.
The same event was cancelled last year due to COVID-related restrictions. However, this year, citing religious fervour and state tourism Uttar Pradesh has given the go-ahead for the Yatra while the Uttarakhand government is still mulling over their decision to allow it.
The previous Uttarakhand government led by the Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat had cancelled the Yatra for this year, but the newly elected Pushkar Singh Dhami is reconsidering the decision of his predecessor.
Dhami was reported saying that “God would not like anyone to die,” Thus, a pilgrimage seems like the right thing to do in these challenging times.
However, the association of medical experts is certain that mass gatherings like this are an invitation to “potential super spreaders for the covid third wave,” creating hotspots of infection that might cripple the public healthcare system, repeating the death toll of the second wave.
Dr. Brian Wahl, an epidemiologist from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, has suggested that certain crucial steps must be taken if India is to minimize the effects of the incoming third wave. Wearing masks, respecting social distancing rules, and most importantly, avoiding mass gatherings.
The four factors that Dr. Wahl has devised are the most important things to keep in mind to keep the R factor (rate of infection) in check.
One of the factors, as he explains, is “the number of opportunities for transmission, i.e., super-spreading events where a small number of individuals infects many,” and another one is “the probability of transmission.” Both these factors completely rule out pilgrimages like Kanwar Yatra.
The IMA has directly addressed this issue by saying, “Opening up these rituals and enabling people without vaccination to go scot-free in these mass gatherings are potential super spreaders for the Covid third wave.”
The Delta variant of the virus is already making waves in the news as the latest culprit in the case of mounting numbers of COVID-positive individuals. This new variant is reported to be twice as infectious as the original strain.
With a rise of 29% in infections from the past week, Mexico is reported to have already been hit by the third wave.
While in India, where only 22% of the population has received at least one dose of vaccination, states like Maharashtra, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh are already reporting an alarming rate of increase in positive cases.
In the same view, IMA’s press release is a clarion call for the government and the public to learn from the past and take the current situation seriously.