With shoppers crowding markets and restaurants amid the phased 'unlocking' of activities in Delhi, doctors on Tuesday cautioned that the National Capital could face a "worse than second wave situation" of COVID-19 if people lower their guards and do not adhere to the safety norms.
The remarks from many doctors at leading government or private facilities come after visuals of crowded markets surfaced on social media, and reports said that people are not following COVID-19-appropriate behaviour such as wearing masks or maintaining social distance.
The concerns come on a day India reported a single-day rise of 62,224 new coronavirus infections, taking India's total tally of COVID-19 cases to 2,96,33,105, while the active cases were recorded below nine lakh after 70 days. The COVID-19 toll climbed to 3,79,573 with 2,542 fresh fatalities.
Which states have started easing restrictions?
Most states are easing the coronavirus-induced curbs, which they first started imposing in mid-April, in a staggered manner, confining it to districts with low positivity rates and active cases and continuing with restrictions like the closure of schools and colleges and night curfew.
Restaurants with 50 percent capacity, and weekly markets and religious places reopened in Delhi from 14 June. Salons, beauty parlours and barbershops closed since the imposition of lockdown on 19 April, have also commenced operations.
Markets and malls, which were earlier allowed to reopen on an odd-even basis, will now open on all days, while educational institutes, cinema halls, gyms, swimming pools and parks will remain closed.
In the neighbouring Haryana, the state government extended the lockdown till 21 June, while easing several restrictions that were in place earlier including doing away with the odd-even system for opening shops. Gyms, sports complexes and stadia have now also been permitted under some conditions.
Restrictions have also been eased in Tamil Nadu, Jammu and Kashmir, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Telangana, Jharkhand and Goa, among other states.
Traffic jams, tourist rush amid eased restrictions
Over the weekend, more than 1,200 vehicles entered the Haryana-Himachal Pradesh border at Parwanoo, and the rush was witnessed at other state entry points, including Bilaspur, Mehatpur in Una and the Kandwal barrier of Kangra district, Hindustan Times reported.
The hotel occupancy in Shimla has risen to 30 percent from zero.
Visuals also showed traffic snarls in Bengaluru and Delhi as the National Capital saw the air quality falling after restrictions were relaxed, according to The Times of India.
What are experts saying?
Dr Suranjit Chatterjee, a senior consultant at Delhi's Apollo Hospitals, warned that if safety norms are not followed by people and if there is no strict enforcement in case of violations, then "we are in for trouble again".
"The way cases have come down from over 28,000 at peak in April to 131 cases reported yesterday, it is such a dramatic fall in numbers. And, if lockdown was the primary reason for it, then we have to tread very cautiously now with the restrictions being slowly eased," he told PTI.
"But, if people show laxity by not wearing masks or wearing them inappropriately or violate social distancing norms, and if law enforcement agencies do not penalise and ensure violations do not increase in quantum, then we are certainly in for trouble. And, the next wave could be worse than the second wave situation," he said.
The pulmonologist emphasised that in the second wave, at least one member in every household here was either infected by COVID-19, or the families knew of someone who had been.
"We hoped that people will learn lessons from the second wave, but seems we are not being wise as common people. The situation will be worse than during the second wave if we do not wise up. A government cannot keep a lockdown forever, but, we can choose to be disciplined and go out only when needed," she said.
Dr Richa Sareen, consultant of pulmonology at Fortis Hospital, who recently lost her immediate family member to COVID-19, said, "The threat of the third wave hitting is quite real and not a hypothesis."
"And, we had a similar threat in February when everyone had started going on a vacation or doing house parties or socialising in public places. Now, that the second wave has done so much damage and claimed so many lives, we need to realise that we have to be disciplined and tread with caution," she said.
Chatterjee, Sareen and many doctors of government hospitals, also underlined that unlike in the UK and Italy, where third wave indications are coming from despite a significant portion of the adult population vaccinated, in India, the vaccination figure is "very minuscule", and, therefore the "threat of the next wave becomes imminent".
How did the second COVID-19 wave affect India?
A lockdown was imposed by the Centre on 19 April amid a surge in COVID-19 cases after restrictions were placed in the preceding months. Since this day, both daily cases and single-day deaths count had been spiralling up.
The COVID-19 death toll in every state barring four at least doubled in the six-week period ending 14 June. In a few states, the toll increased by close to four times, according to The Indian Express.
Nearly 2.1 lakh COVID-19 deaths have been recorded since 1 April.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has, at the G7 summit, blamed the second wave of COVID-19 in India on the premature opening up of the society and relaxation of public health measures, new variants and unequal vaccine distribution.
The second wave put further stress on the health infrastructure as the shortage of oxygen and essential drugs, and a dearth of hospital beds was reported, apart from the emergence of black fungus cases among patients.
Medical experts in mid-May had concurred that it was lockdown majorly that had brought down the count of daily cases while cautioning that the severity of cases was still the same.
How is India preparing for a possible third wave?
COVID-19 task force member Dr Om Srivastava said that the possibility of a new surge is still around, even as COVID-19 norms were relaxed in many states. The risk can last anywhere between June 2021 and December 2021 or even till June 2022, depending on a number of factors, he told India Today.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal Wednesday said the government would train 5,000 youths as health assistants in the coming weeks to prepare for a possible third wave.
"I have visited many hospitals. We are setting up oxygen plants and making arrangements for oxygen concentrators, cylinders and storage tanks as well. But if a third wave comes, as we saw in the first and second waves, we are likely to face a shortage of medical and paramedical staff," he said in a press conference.
Many states have started to prepare for a third wave, with a special focus on protecting children. The Uttar Pradesh government plans to identify and vaccinate parents of children below 10 years. Since 15 June, the state government has been distributing free medicine kits consisting of cough syrup and chewable tablets among children.
Jharkhand has prepared a manual detailing its treatment plans and management of children during the third wave, and has estimated that it would require over 6,000 beds for them, Scroll reported. The Karnataka government has set up a task force to create additional pediatric wards and Covid care centres for children across districts.