India’s Covid ‘tsunami’: Did election rallies lead to ‘perfect storm’? | India News


NEW DELHI: India went past yet another grim milestone on Wednesday after reporting its highest-ever surge of 3.6 lakh new Covid cases and nearly 3,300 deaths.
The surge had started somewhere around late-February to early-March when the average daily count went past the 15,000-mark after staying below it for over a month.
The onset of the second wave also coincided with the announcement of the assembly election dates in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry.
With campaigning kicking off in these states, the cases started surging in several parts of India, particularly Maharashtra.
This stoked fears that the poll-bound states could breed super-spreader events during political campaigning and further contribute to the surge.
But did elections really have a part to play in India’s second wave? Here’s a look …
Cases in India started rising by the end of February with Maharashtra leading the surge and reporting a bulk of the infections.

In fact, the upward trend in cases began in Maharashtra alone since it was reporting a consistent rise in infections during this period.
At the same time, there was no particular increase in cases in the poll-bound states.

The above chart shows that the Covid graph in the poll-bound states remained flat during the first few weeks of the second wave even as campaigning had started.
The cases, however, started rising rapidly in all four states by the end of March.
The first phase of the elections was held on March 27 in West Bengal and Assam. Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry voted in a single phase on April 6. The three-phase Assam elections also concluded that day.
Meanwhile, campaigning continued in West Bengal as polling was spread over eight phases. The last round of polling is still left and will be held on April 29.
But the steep surge in cases is not just isolated to these states.

If we look at some of the other worst-hit states during the same period, the Covid graph is somewhat similar.
Cases in UP, Karnataka, Kerala and Delhi also started rising around the end of March and early April. Maharashtra was still heavily leading the overall surge in cases.
Going by the overall scenario in India, it is unclear whether the elections alone led to the surge in the four states.

The above graph shows the testing pattern in the four states where elections were held.
Apart from West Bengal, the overall average testing rate didn’t change much compared to the beginning of the year. Bengal was the only state which saw a decline in daily testing when the campaigning started.
‘Perfect storm’
Though it is hard to establish a direct link between the surge in cases and elections, the mass gatherings, combined with other factors such as more infectious variants, could have compounded the Covid crisis in India.
Thousands of people gathered during rallies in all the four states, particularly in Bengal, where Covid protocols were widely flouted. Several political leaders were also seen without masks.
“Political leaders are themselves responsible for the resurgence by allowing the packed rallies,” said Subhash Salunke, a former World Health Organization official who advises the worst-hit state, Maharashtra.

Union home minister Amit Shah shows a victory sign to the supporters during a road show in West Bengal. (ANI Photo)
The WHO recently noted that a “perfect storm” of mass gatherings, more contagious variants and low vaccination rates have sparked the outbreak in the country.
The Election Commission has also come under heavy criticism for the breach of Covid protocols during campaigning with Madras high court terming it the “most irresponsible institution” in India.
In a strong indictment of the EC, the court recently said that it should probably face murder charges for not preventing parties from breaching protocols.



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