In Stats: What Do Mumbai's Rising Numbers Say About the Third Wave of COVID-19?

What does existing data tell us about Mumbai's preparedness for surge in omicron cases? Experts weigh in.

4 min read
In Stats: What Do Mumbai's Rising Numbers Say About the Third Wave of COVID-19?

On Thursday, 6 January, Mumbai logged a record 20,181 fresh cases of COVID-19 – the highest single day tally registered by the city since the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020. During the peak of the second wave, Mumbai had recorded 11,163 cases on 4 April 2021.

As per data provided by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the civic body of the city, in about ten days, the city’s active caseload has increased 25 times as it went up from 809 cases on 27 December 2021 to 20,181 cases on 6 January 2022.

It is imperative to note that out of 20,181 positive cases, 85 percent are asymptomatic. 1,170 patients were hospitalised, of which 106 are on oxygen support.

As cases in the metropolis continue to rise at a much faster rate than what was observed with previous variants, stricter curbs and guidelines have been put in place by the state government and the BMC.

The Quint spoke to experts and analysed data available in public domain to understand the severity of the situation in Mumbai, level of preparedness, and the many outcomes of a possible third wave of COVID.

Daily Caseload and Hospitalisations

Even as the number of active cases continue to double every two-three days, hospitalisation has remained low in comparison to what the city witnessed during the second wave of COVID last year.

It is to be noted, however, that there is an upward trend in hospitalisation.
Data released by the BMC suggests that between 31 December 2021 and 6 January 2022, daily COVID-related hospitalisations have gone up from 497 to 1,170.

Internal medicine specialist Dr Swapneil Parikh, who has co-authored The Coronavirus: What you Need to Know about the Global Pandemic, told The Quint that the low hospitalisation numbers can be attributed to three main factors.

“The first is immunity, both due to past infections and vaccination. Secondly, preliminary reports suggest that the Omicron variant is inherently less virulent than the Delta variant but this is not to insinuate that Omicron variant is harmless or benign. The third factor is that we are still very early in this wave. There is an epidemiological timeline between when an individual gets infected, when the infection is detected, and when they land up in the hospital," says Dr Parikh.

Murad Banaji, a mathematician working on disease modelling, however, points out that there is no data on how well vaccines or previous infections protect against Omicron.

“Small drops make a big difference. If, say, protection drops from 95% to 90%, that will double the expected hospitalisations,” he wrote in his Twitter thread.

The Quint spoke to Banaji who points out that while there is a possibility that India might mirror the South African trajectory for the the recent wave fuelled by Omicron, India is a much bigger country than South Africa, so - for that reason alone - we should expect the wave to last longer.

The recent wave in South Africa rapidly increased for two weeks before the numbers started coming down. Most cases were asymptomatic or showed mild symptoms.

"This wave will very likely be more rapid than the last one. The South African trajectory is probably the best scenario we can hope for in India. But we shouldn't assume that India's current wave will follow the same path - there isn't enough detailed understanding of the factors behind the rapid peak in cases in South Africa, and how these compare to the situation in India."
Murad Banaji, Mathematician

To Panic Or Not to Panic: How Well Prepared Is Mumbai?

According to Dr Parikh, while numbers indicate that we might as well be in week two of the third wave of the pandemic, Mumbai is prepared to deal with it.

“As far as numbers are concerned, looks like we are in week two of the third wave. It’s already here. Mumbai, however, remains one of the best prepared cities. We have aggressively vaccinated 100% of our adult population with the first dose (according to population figures in 2011 census) and over 80% have received the second dose.”
Dr Swapneil Parikh, Internal medicine specialist

“Mumbai has also done a good job by decentralising the Covid response, by building decent ward war rooms, and by scaling infrastructure,” he adds

According to the city's civic body, Mumbai has 22,222 Dedicated Covid Health Center (DCHC), Dedicated Covid Hospital (DCH) and jumbo facilities beds.

As of now, 13,389 COVID Care Center (CCC) beds are available, with doctors and nurses on duty round the clock. In addition to this, there are 2,636 ICU beds, 1,407 ventilator beds and 11,912 oxygen beds as per 6 January.

As A part of fresh restrictions imposed to check the spread of the virus in Mumbai, beaches, open grounds, sea faces, and other public places have been made off-limits to people in the city between 5 pm and 5 am till 15 January.

Large gatherings have been banned and war rooms have been set up in all 24 wards to manage hospital admissions, oxygen and medicine requirements, and vaccination.

Talking about the capacity of the city's healthcare infrastructure, Banaji says that previous infections, and vaccinations will protect a lot of people from severe disease.

"There will, however, be severe cases - especially amongst the frail, and amongst those who have not been vaccinated and have escaped infection in previous waves. Given how fragile India's health infrastructure is, especially for marginalised communities, we should expect that there will be preventable deaths during this wave," he adds.

"Mortality should not reach the catastrophic proportions of the previous wave, but that is no reason to take this wave lightly. It is critical to scale up health infrastructure as much as possible based on the most pessimistic assumptions."
Murad Banaji, Mathematician

Speaking to The Quint, Dr Om Shrivastava, infectious disease expert and member of Maharashtra’s COVID-19 task force, says that as of now Omicron is just a variant and not an aggressive disease.

“This, however, does not mean that it doesn’t have the potential to become aggressive. It has already been described by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a variant of concern.”
Dr Om Shrivastava, Maharashtra Covid-19 task force member

“There are several factors which determine a patient’s immunity against a virus. These range from previous infection to vaccine or a bit of both. We cannot say with certainty that anybody is 100% immune or less vulnerable to the new variant because of any reason whatsoever," he says.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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