India still in first Covid wave, 2nd peak likely after festivals: Experts

In spite of high numbers of infections, India is still not close to achieving herd immunity, experts said
Battling apprehension, Nisha Punjabi, a Bahrain-based blogger, decided to visit India to see her family after almost a year. Armed with a bagful of masks, sanitisers and gloves, Punjabi landed in Delhi this week.

Much to her dismay, the taxi she booked to pick her up from the airport did not have the shield between the driver and the passenger as promised. “I was so surprised when the manager of the taxi company told me that Covid has gone from India so we have removed the shields.”

The shield, in fact, seems to be coming off for a larger population that is fatigued with wearing masks and social distancing nine months into the pandemic. The decline in the national curve of the disease has further encouraged people to throw caution to the wind.

However, if experiences of the European nations going into another lockdown is any indication, India, too, could see a second peak following the winter and the upcoming festive season.

The COV-IND-19 Study Group of Michigan University has predicted that at the end of this year, there will be about 10 million cases in India, after taking into account the festival season.
India, according to epidemiologists, is still in the first wave and is likely to see a second peak of the pandemic. It is, however, difficult to predict if the second peak would be higher or lower than September.

“The disease can come roaring back even after months of being in decline. It is important not to lose the gains we have made so far,” said Gautam Menon, professor of physics and biology, Ashoka University, and researcher on the modelling of infectious diseases.

India’s Covid trajectory has seen a fall from September levels. From over 97,000 in mid-September, the daily new case count has sharply declined to less than 40,000 in November. But the state numbers tell a different story. Even as national figures decreased, the number of active cases increased in Delhi, Kerala, West Bengal and Manipur between October and November.

“Based on the serosurveys, the actual infections are much more than the 8.3 million currently reported. The next peak could probably be lower than what we have seen in September of about 100,000 cases per day. It will be very hard to avoid,” said Bhramar Mukherjee, professor of epidemiologist, University of Michigan.

There has also been a habituation of human psychology. What scared us in March is much more normal now.

A committee headed by Niti Aayog member V K Paul had said Delhi should prepare for 15,000 new daily infections in winter. Delhi has been witnessing its highest number of daily cases in November. The capital had over 6,800 cases on Friday. The government is scrambling to add more ventilators and ICU beds in its hospitals.

In spite of such high numbers of infections and even higher numbers indicated by the serosurveys, India is still not close to achieving herd immunity, experts said. A large part of the population still remains susceptible to the infection. India is yet to achieve 40 to 50 per cent of infections (of its population of 1.3 billion), which has been predicted as the threshold for herd immunity.
The UK, Germany, France and Belgium, which are among the countries experiencing a second wave, have re-imposed lockdowns.

Is that the way forward for India as well? “A nationwide lockdown is a bad idea under any circumstance,” Menon said. “But localised lockdowns, in parts of districts or cities where cases are climbing and test positivity ratios are more than 20 per cent, should not be ruled out.”

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