Steady rise in cases in Mumbai & Pune cause for concern, warn experts

Two days ago, state Energy Minister Nitin Raut said the “third wave” had already arrived in Nagpur, after the city reported two consecutive days double-digit increase in confirmed cases. Nagpur had been reporting less than 10 cases since the start of August.

While the Covid-19 numbers in Maharashtra have remained more or less stable in the last three weeks, a small but appreciable spike in cases in Mumbai, and a couple of other districts, has been enough to raise the scare of an impending “third wave”.

Two days ago, state Energy Minister Nitin Raut said the “third wave” had already arrived in Nagpur, after the city reported two consecutive days double-digit increase in confirmed cases. Nagpur had been reporting less than 10 cases since the start of August.

On Tuesday, Mayor Kishori Pednekar made a similar statement about Mumbai, probably with a little more justification. There has been a noticeable rise in the number of cases in Mumbai in the last few days — from less than 300 a day till the last week of August to over 400 now.

Overall, there has been a slight improvement in the Covid-19 situation in the state in the last three weeks. Daily case count has remained firmly below 5,000 for almost two weeks now. The death count has remained below 100 for about a week. Active cases have declined from about 65,000 in the middle of last month to less than 48,000 now.

But state health officials are keeping their fingers crossed, especially in light of the approaching festivals.

“There is no third wave as of today. But we are seeing ups and downs, and since the unlockdown began. There is a definite concern with the upcoming festive season and a red alert has been sounded in view of what happened in Kerala (spike after local festivals). The thinning tail of the second wave became a little thick again and we have observed a spike in some districts of concern. Districts like Pune, Satara, Sangli, Ahmednagar and Mumbai are in the spotlight, and so is the entire state during the festive season,” Dr Shashank Joshi, expert member with Maharashtra’s Covid-19 Task Force, told The Indian Express.

The Covid-19 situation in Pune, in fact, has been resembling that of Kerala, with the cases steadfastly refusing to go down. The district has been reporting between 800 and 1,000 new cases every day since the start of August. Most of the cases are coming from the rural areas of the district.

A new state government report released on Wednesday showed that Pune was one of the only three districts — the others being Sangli and Ahmednagar — where the weekly positivity rate was still more than five per cent. Pune recorded a positivity rate of 6.3 per cent in the week ending September 7, while Sangli and Ahmednagar had rates of 5.6 per cent and 5.3 per cent, respectively.

Dr Subhash Salunkhe, the state’s technical advisor on Covid-19, said Pune remained a cause of concern. “While there is no alarming rise in cases, Pune’s positivity rate needs to be taken seriously. It is important then that there should be no large gatherings during the Ganesh festival and people should worship at home,” he added.

The state government had decided that any further roll back of restrictions in any district would be allowed only if the weekly positivity rate was less than five per cent. In Pune’s case, it has been showing an increasing trend. The daily and weekly positivity rate in the state is less than three per cent.

Dr Pradeep Awate, state surveillance officer, said the behaviour of people during the upcoming Ganapati festival would be critical to the future course of the pandemic in Maharashtra. “Compared to last month, cases in the state have dropped to approximately 4,000 every day. But people must continue to take precautions. There can be a spike anytime if we do not follow Covid appropriate behaviour,” he added.

Dr Sanjeev Wavare, assistant medical officer of health, Pune Municipal Corporation, said the increase in cases in Mumbai and Nagpur, even though they were quite small, and the continuing high numbers in Pune, must be treated as a warning signal.

“That is why we have been appealing to people to persist with masks and social distancing norms, especially during the festivals. Getting tested immediately is important,” Wavare said.

Across some large hospitals in Pune, there was a slight increase in the number of Covid-19 cases, authorities said. “Our lowest count was 50 a few days ago and today we have admitted 70 patients,” said Dr Dhananjay Kelkar, medical director of Deenanath Mangeshkar hospital. “It is important to understand that Covid-19 is still lurking and preventive actions can play a huge role,” he added.

According to Dr Madhur Rao, senior deputy medical administrator at KEM hospital in Mumbai, there has been a slight increase in new Covid-19 admissions in the last two to three weeks. “Our lowest numbers were 11 and now, there are 30 patients, of whom 10 are in the ICU,” he said.

“These are not big numbers, but yes there is an increase,” Rao said, adding that there is a need to exercise caution. “People need to keep in mind that Covid-19 is not over and done with and follow all precautions. Just because one is vaccinated does not mean he/she can walk around without a mask or have a party with more than 50 others in a closed environment,” Rao said.

Shashank Joshi said it was important for people to understand that the state was just one super-spreading event away from the “third wave”.

“There has been a large amount of exposure to the virus, going by seropositivity and now a large vaccinated population, but the main outlier is going to be the fast spreading Delta variant. So, extreme care and caution has to be taken. Any reckless behaviour or a super spreader event can be counterproductive – we are on a threshold of a third wave…” he added.

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