As if the coronavirus wasn’t enough, India grappled with scorching temperatures and the worst locust invasion in decades as authorities prepared for the end of a monthslong lockdown despite recording thousands of new infections every day.
This triple disaster drew biblical comparisons and forced officials to try to balance the competing demands of simultaneous public health crises: protection from eviscerating heat but also social distancing in newly reopened parks and markets.
The heat wave threatens to compound challenges of containing the virus, which has started spreading more quickly and broadly since the government began easing restrictions of one of the world’s most stringent lockdowns earlier this month.
“The world will not get a chance to breathe anymore. The ferocity of crises are increasing, and they’re not going to be spaced out,” said Sunita Narain of New Delhi’s Center for Science and Environment.
When her 6-year-old son woke up with a parched throat and a fever, housekeeper Kalista Ekka wanted to bring him to the hospital. But facing a deluge of COVID-19 patients, the doctor advised Ekka to keep him at home despite boiling temperatures in the family’s two-room apartment in a low-income neighborhood in South Delhi.
“The fan only makes it hotter but we can’t open the window because it has no screen,” and thus no defense against malaria and dengue-carrying mosquitoes, Ekka said.
In a nearby upmarket enclave crowded with walkers and joggers every morning and at dusk — some with face coverings, some without — neighbors debated the merits of masks in an online forum.
In the heat, “it is very dangerous to work out with a mask. So a Catch-22 situation,” said Asmita Singh.
Temperatures soared to 118 degrees Fahrenheit (47.6 degrees Celsius) in the capital New Delhi this week, marking the warmest May day in 18 years, and 122 F (50 C) in the desert state of Rajasthan, after the world’s hottest April on record. [Continue reading…]