India past the Covid peak, pandemic could run its course by Feb: Govt panel

The current study is based on the assumption that adequate precautions are taken and people follow covid-appropriate behaviour including social distancing, wearing masks and sanitising.
Covid-19 infections in India peaked in September and if all precautions are followed, the pandemic would have run its course by early next year. This is according to the mathematical projections of the government-appointed Covid-19 Supermodel Committee.

The 10-member panel, headed by M Vidyasagar, professor in electrical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Hyderabad, has projected that by mid-February, the pandemic curve would have reached the baseline, with the total symptomatic coronavirus infections touching 10.6 million. The study has projected that 30 per cent of India’s population has Covid-19 antibodies at present.

“By the end of February, 2021, the number of cases would not be zero — obviously you will never have zero cases. But it will be very minimal and we can certainly cope,” M Vidyasagar said.

In epidemiology, this is also known as the endemic stage. Many epidemiologists believe that the stage where coronavirus infections would have completely declined would take at least 8-10 months.

The current study on “Progression of the Covid-19 Pandemic in India: Prognosis and Lockdown Impacts” is based on the assumption that adequate precautions are taken and people follow Covid-appropriate behaviour including social distancing, wearing masks and sanitising.

The sero-survey by the Indian Council of Medical Research had found that 7 per cent of the population had been exposed to coronavirus by the end of August. The committee had then projected that the number of people with antibodies was almost double, at 14 per cent.

The study also said relaxation in protective measures, especially with festivals and winter season nearing, can lead to a significant spike of 2.6 million infections within a month. This was seen in Kerala, when the infection rose in September right after the Onam celebrations in the state. There was also a drop of 22 per cent in the medical response to the rising number of cases.

The committee also conducted a study of various lockdown scenarios. It found that had there been no lockdown, then the total number of active symptomatic cases would have peaked in June, at 14 million, and there would have been over 2.5 million deaths by August. The situation with the lockdown measures in place shows that India had one million active symptomatic cases at the peak level in September and deaths were limited to 100,000.

While the study found the evidence to support the initial lockdown, it also concluded that there are no significant benefits of imposing another lockdown since the pandemic will end by February in both scenarios.

The study also found that the migrant movement did not lead to a sharp increase in the total number of infections, and that had the migrant population been allowed to move before the lockdown, it would have had a significant adverse impact.

The study took the example of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. “There will be an immediate bump in the curve for the obvious reason that some fraction of these migrants would be carriers of the virus. But there was no multiplier effect that would cause a huge spurt in these states,” Vidyasagar said.

Arguing against the suggestion that the government should have allowed people to migrate and then imposed a lockdown, he added, “That would have been a complete disaster...The quarantining of the migrants wherever they worked for a few weeks certainly was a very effective strategy to contain the growth of the virus.”

The committee includes representatives of IIT Kanpur, Christian Medical College-Vellore, Integrated Defence Staff (medical), National Institute of Virology-Pune and National Institute of Epidemiology among others.

Community spread in some districts: Vardhan

After months of denial, the government finally admitted that India is witnessing community transmission of Covid-19, but maintained that it is limited to a few districts. Responding to a question during a social media address on Sunday, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said there was community transmission in India, but it was not country-wide. “It has been reported in different pockets of various states. It is not happening across the country,” he said. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had in July confirmed community transmission in the state.

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