The palpable celebration of the falling COVID-19 number in the city might just be a tad premature. While there has been some reduction over a few days, the effect of the lockdown in pushing the number down cannot be overlooked. Public health experts are calling for caution, to wait and watch if the number is going down further, before concluding that Chennai has turned the bend.

A careful look at the statistics indicates the shadow the lockdown cast on the number of positive cases in the city. In terms of absolute number as well as positivity rate, any significant fall occurs only after July 4, 15 days after the complete lockdown was enforced. From July 4, the number drops to below 2,000, though the number of tests being done remains high, in the 10,000 bracket. Over the last three days, the number of cases has hovered around the 1,200-mark, resulting in a further drop in the positivity rate. On July 7, the positivity rate dropped to its lowest 11.7% from a high of 22% on June 23. The performance over six days is scarcely a true measure of an epidemic that has raged on for months.

“We need to see if this performance is consistent,” says T. Jacob John, senior virologist, Christian Medical College, Vellore. “It could well be transient. We do need to wait for a while to see if this trend sustains. A lockdown has been in place, and it has a known effect — in terms of postponing the crisis. If the downtrend sustains, then, and only then might we conclude that we’re past the peak.” However, he hastens to add that any further lockdown is impractical.

V. Ramasubramanian, senior consultant, infectious diseases, Apollo Hospitals, is very frank. “It is very premature to talk about Chennai’s success at this point. The lockdown definitely played a role.”

He further explains: “What we are seeing now as a plateau will be a repeat pattern over the next couple of months. We will have a wave, of ups and downs, over August and September. By the end of the year, Tamil Nadu might be able to heave a sigh of relief. And perhaps, the next year, there will be a second wave, but not so intense.”

Dr. John stresses the importance of mask-wearing as it will make social interactions reasonably possible, while maintaining physical distance. Behaviour change is the only key to the future, he says. Leaders must set an example by wearing masks in public or in televised addresses, in an effort to underline the importance. Dr. Ramasubramanian, too, places a lot of stress on individual responsibility of following COVID-19 etiquette to control the spread of the disease.

Health Secretary J. Radhakrishnan says it might just be too early, and there is no room for complacency. “While there has been a reduction due to tracing through fever camps, aggressive testing, tracing and isolating and treating and micro-plan, house-to-house visit, NGO work, and co-operation from public, it is too early to be satisfied or comment as we need to keep continuing to work with the same intensity.” In his opinion, flattening of the curve would only be possible with continued public cooperation to make COVID-19 prevention a community movement. “The government is doing its part by strengthening health infrastructure simultaneously,” he adds.

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