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Is India’s second COVID-19 wave over? Not completely, say experts

Witnessing the decline of the deadly second wave of Covid-19, India has seen multiple green flags indicating the end of the crisis. The green flags include a sharp decline in cases with India reporting only 1/7th of the cases it reported during the peak last month, arrest in positivity rate and deaths, and lower active cases.

India on Monday saw 53,256 fresh cases of Covid-19, the lowest in 88 days. For perspective, India had seen the highest count of daily infections on May 6 when it reported 414,188 Covid-19 cases in just 24 hours. In line with World Health Organisation’s norms for reopening a region, the Covid-19 positivity rate should be less than 5% for 14 days in a row. India on Monday achieved that milestone as well.

So does that mean India has turned a corner and can proceed with reopening? The experts are still not convinced enough to declare the end of the second wave in the country.

While it is safe to say that the worst is over, according to the experts, the holistic picture should not discount the emerging new variants which have sparked fears globally and started third waves in countries like the UK. Additionally, some parts of India are still seeing a positivity rate over and above 5%.

Pointing out that India’s second wave fell as sharply as it rose, as predicted by many experts, Naga Suresh Veerapu from Shiv Nadar University warned of new variants like Delta which is responsible for driving India’s second wave.

“With the current positivity rate at less than 5 per cent, India’s Covid-19 second wave is on the wane as quickly as it rushed to its peak, but the end of it may yet be far away as more transmissible new variants such as Delta plus variant are emerging,” Veerapu, associate professor at the School of Natural Sciences (SoNS), Shiv Nadar University told PTI.

Positivity rate is a crucial metric that shows how widespread the virus is in the community, and over time it provides an idea of whether a region’s testing strategy is adequate to contain the virus.

Cautioning with the unpredictable pattern of virus, he said, “The Delta variant that emerged in March spread across the different parts of India, then cases surged to the peak yielding a second wave. The second wave conjoined with the first when the latter was at 1 per cent positivity rate.”

The central government on Saturday joined experts and courts in warning states and Union territories not to become “complacent” about a decline in Covid-19 infections, urging them to ensure that Covid-appropriate behaviour is followed and asking them to monitor signs of a potential spike in cases as they lift lockdown restrictions.

In a letter to states and UTs, Union home secretary Ajay Bhalla said that while the opening up of businesses is “essential” for revival of economic activity, the local administrations must ensure that the whole “process is carefully calibrated”.

India should not sideline the absolute number of cases which is still above 50,000 in the country, said public policy expert Chandrakant Lahariya, adding that several parts of the country still have a positivity rate over 5%. This reduces India’s chances of opening up completely.

“Therefore, before saying that the second wave is over, I would like to wait for the TPR to come down below 5 per cent everywhere and sustain for two weeks or longer,” he told PTI.

India’s tally of Covid-19 cases is 2,99,35,221 (2.99 crore/29.9 million) while active cases have reduced to 7,02,887, according to the data by health ministry.

The second wave of the pandemic overwhelmed the healthcare system of the country, leaving hospitals struggling to cope with the surge in cases and critical drugs and oxygen in short supply. Infections have now slowed down and restrictions have been relaxed in most states.

Agreeing that the drop in India’s cases has been quite dramatic, Menon noted, “From all we know, this is a genuine decline, both in urban and rural India.”

For a country the size of India, enough attention needs to be paid at the local level,” Lahariya said.

He explained that Covid-19 is not just any other respiratory illness and decision-making parameters cannot be simple.

“We know that there are new variants which are more transmissible. We know that human behaviour determines the spread of this virus. Therefore, it is not very relevant if we declare whether the second wave is over or not,” the public policy expert explained.

“Key is, are we prepared to respond to the rise in cases? That’s where the attention has to be,” Lahariya told PTI.

India’s second and worst wave so far of infections began in March and started to ease sometime in May. At its peak, India added an average of 3,91,819 daily cases for the week ending May 9.

It also surpassed the US — the worst-hit nation in cumulative cases — in recording the most number of infections in a single day (305,062) when it recorded 315,909 cases on April 21. In fact, India recorded more than USA’s highest single day tally every day from April 21 to May 15. The world’s worst outbreak at the time brought the national capital to its knees, as hospitals ran out of medical oxygen and life-saving drugs and bodies piled up in crematoria. The health care infrastructure in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Odisha, too, were stretched thin in those months. Hindustan Times