With close gathering of shoppers in markets and restaurants resuming business amid phased unlock in the national capital, doctors on Tuesday cautioned that Delhi could face a "worse than second wave situation" of COVID-19 if people do not adhere to safety norms or lower their guards.
The remarks from many doctors at leading government or private facilities in New Delhi come after visuals of various crowded markets surfaced in reports and on social media, showing Covid-appropriate behaviour not being followed by many people, like wearing of masks or maintaining social distance.
Dr. Suranjit Chatterjee, a senior consultant at Apollo Hospitals in the national capital, 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 a 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 it 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 a trouble. And, the next wave could be worse than the second wave situation," he said.
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.
Dr. Richa Sareen, consultant of pulmonology at Fortis hospital in Delhi, 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 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.
The pulmonologist emphasised that in the second wave, at least one member in every household in the national capital 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. 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.
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 miniscule", and, therefore the "threat of the next wave becomes imminent".
Delhi had been reeling under a brutal second wave of the pandemic that is sweeping the country, claiming a massive number of lives daily, with the recent oxygen supply shortage issue at various hospitals, adding to the woes.
Since April 19, both daily cases and single-day deaths count had been spiralling up.
A lockdown was imposed by the government on April 19, however, in the last two weeks, several restrictions have been eased, like metro services with 50 per cent seating capacity from June 7, restaurants with 50 per cent capacity from June 14, besides the market and the malls resuming business.
Since the imposition of the lockdown, a large number of people have been penalised for violating COVID-19 safety norms, and the Delhi government while announcing phased lockdown easing had said that the restrictions will be imposed again if cases begin to rise.
According to a data shared by Additional PRO (Delhi Police) Anil Mittal, a total of 1,33,143 challans have been issued from April 19 to June 14.
Out of these, 1,12,265 challans were issued for mask-related violations, 19,153 for violating social distancing norms, 1,532 challans for holding large public gatherings and congregations, 72 for spitting in public and 121 for consumption of liquor, pan, gutkha, and tobacco according to police.
"We have directed the market welfare associations to ensure compliance of COVID appropriate behaviour in their respective areas. This is not a full opening. Anyone violating COVID norms will be liable to be prosecuted by the Delhi Police," said Chinmoy Biswal, Delhi Police's public relations officer.
Market association representatives and management staff at malls claimed, all precautions were being taken and COVID-19 safety rules being adhered to.
Major markets which draw bug crowds on regular days, include, Connaught Place, Khan Market, Sarojini Nagar Market, Lajpat Nagar Market and Rajouri Garden market.
"In a market like ours, it is feasible to maintain social distancing and traders are ready to abide by all norms. There is a definitely a problem with the hawkers, which we have raised with authorities too, but the stores in Connaught Place can follow COVID protocols smoothly," said Atul Bhargava, president, New Delhi Traders Association.
Sanjeev Mehra of Khan Market Traders Association, echoed his views saying the markets cannot be kept closed the whole year.
In such markets, the rents are high and there is no relief in tax, and other bills charged by the civic bodies. They have no option other than abiding by norms and going ahead with life, he said.
A mall management staff at DLF Emporio in south Delhi, said, "We are checking temperature of all customers, and wearing of mask is mandatory. We have also ensured that all our staff here are vaccinated. The entire mall management crew is working, but the restaurants at the mall are functioning at 50 per cent capacity as per the norms."