Researchers who had accurately predicted the deadly Covid wave that hit India earlier this year now state that the country is likely to witness a rise in coronavirus cases in a new wave that may peak in October.
According to estimates by researchers Mathukumalli Vidyasagar and Manindra Agrawal at Indian Institute of Technology in Hyderabad and Kanpur respectively, India may see a worsening of its outbreak as soon as this month, with the next wave peaking in the best-case scenario with less than 100,000 infections a day, or nearly 150,000 in the worst scenario.
A report by Bloomberg quoted Vidyasagar saying: “States with high Covid rates, such as Kerala and Maharashtra, could skew the picture”.
The wave is expected to be far smaller than the last one which saw as many as 4 lakh cases being recorded each day.
The forecast underscores the need for India to accelerate its vaccination campaign, deploy surveillance methods to catch emerging hotspots and stay vigilant through genome sequencing given the potential for new variants to emerge.
The delta strain now causing renewed outbreaks across the world was first identified in India last October.
Experts are concerned about complacency setting in as people resume social and business activity in the face of waning infections. India’s first outbreak last year ebbed with limited damage, leading to a quick resumption of local travel and large-scale festivals that drove the emergence of a devastating second wave in March. With hospitals and crematoriums overwhelmed, researchers estimate that as many as 5 million people may have been killed in that outbreak. The government estimates of total Covid-related fatalities so far is 424,351.
That last wave also lead to high levels of natural immunity in the country’s nearly 1.4 billion people — a factor that could blunt the impact of the next surge. A national antibody survey by the Indian Council of Medical Research study last month found that two-thirds of Indians above the age of six had been exposed to the coronavirus.
Five months after the last wave started, daily infections in India have plateaued at around the 40,000 daily mark. For the past five days, roughly half the new cases are coming from the southern state of Kerala, making it potentially the next hotspot.
Daily cases have grown persistently through July in Kerala and a few smaller north-eastern states, said Paul Kattuman, professor in the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge, which has developed a Covid-19 tracker for India. But a few states also saw “short-lived flare-ups in July which abated relatively quickly,” putting the country overall in “a steady state” for now.
“If infection begins to increase in a few large states, the present balance will tip, and cases are likely to begin growing again in the country as a whole,” Kattuman said. “We might expect to see a slow-burn in the country for a duration — this can be expected to last till vaccination coverage is sufficiently high to induce herd immunity.”
India has so far administered 470.3 million vaccine doses, but only 7.6% of the population is fully vaccinated, according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker. The relatively slow uptake has added to concerns that the country may not be fully geared for the next wave.