Is there a link between India’s new COVID-19 wave and relaxed containment policies?

In a month since India recorded the lowest stringency score, its active caseload jumped six times 

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Wednesday 14 April 2021
Is there a link between India's new COVID-19 wave and relaxed containment policy?

The rapid increase in the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases between March and April 2021 indicates that the current wave of the pandemic is more severe. Some experts blame it on new, tougher variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus; but there is also a correlation with relaxed restrictions.

The number of active COVID-19 cases in India ballooned to 1,200,000 on April 13, 2021 from 189,000 on March 8, 2021 — a 500 per cent increase.

Around the same time in March, India recorded its lowest score — 57.87 out of 100 — on the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker. The score is a measure of a country’s stringency of COVID-19 restrictions. The index developed by the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford university takes into account the number and intensity of closures and containment policies.

India’s score remained low through March and improved slightly to 69.91 on April 13, with some states reinstating restrictions.

In April 2020, when the country had put in place some of the most stringent containment measures, its score on the tracker was a complete 100.

This analysis signified a direct relation between lenient containment policies and a spurt of COVID-19 cases.

How India diluted containment measures

Indicators April 13, 2020 (Stringency Score: 100/100) March 9, 2021 (Stringency Score: 57.87/100)
School closing Require closing (all levels)   Require closing (some sectors)
Workplace closing Require closing all but essential Require closing all but essential
Cancel public events Required Required
Restrictions on gathering size Restrictions on gatherings of 10 or fewer people Restrictions on gatherings of 10 or fewer people
Close public transport Required No  measures
Stay at home requirements Total confinement Total confinement
Restrictions on internal movement Required No  measures
Restrictions on international travel Border closure Ban

(Source: Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker)

There is a growing body of research with similar findings. A November 2020 Nature study that analysed the restrictions imposed by governments around the world also inferred that stringent lockdown were very effective in curbing the spread of infections. Another paper published this January by the University of East Anglia also called for lockdowns across the world to control the pandemic. 

This year, when the country started seeing a rise in infections in March, most of the new cases were from just six states — Maharashtra, Punjab, Karnataka, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

A month on, however, the map of hotspots had changed. On April 12, 2021, Maharashtra was the leading hotspot with 566,278 active cases but it was followed by Chhattisgarh (98,856) and Uttar Pradesh (81,576).

Maharashtra became one of the first states to reinstate stringent restrictions such as night curfews and partial lockdowns in April.

As many as 15 other states have followed suit: Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand Tamil Nadu.

Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray announced stricter norms April 13 and imposed Section 144 from 8 pm on April 14 to 7 am on May 1, 2021. 

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