‘8-10 Lakh Cases Per Day’: Experts Weigh In on India’s COVID Peak
According to experts, India is on the path to record 4,500 deaths per day by mid-May 2021.
“What we are seeing is that at the peak, which will be in mid-May, India will see 8-10 lakh fresh cases per day and the peak in deaths will come at the end of May, at 4,500 deaths per day,” said Dr Professor Bhramar Mukherjee, an epidemiologist and biostatistician at the Michigan University, in a candid interview with The Wire on Thursday, 22 April.
These estimates provided by Professor Mukherjee are not in solitude. Several experts and organisations have provided similar statistical points for India’s accelerating second COVID wave, which on Saturday reported 3.46 lakh fresh cases.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in Seattle in its statistical reports has also pointed out that India will witness its peak in mid-May and has projected a sharp decline in cases and fatality post that.
The figures mentioned by Professor Mukherjee and the IHME are estimates of reported cases and these numbers would keep increasing at the current rate if there is no intervention. However, according to these experts, the ground reality is a stark contrast since a multitude of cases go undetected.
As India continues to witness record-breaking COVID cases every day and hospitals across the country suffer severe shortages of oxygen supply and beds, the questions on how we reached here and when will this surge end begin to surface.
'Ship Has Sailed Far from Harbour': Prof Mukherjee
“Unfortunately, I think the ship has sailed far…for a long time we all tried to explain the mysterious decline but in February we saw the uptick and not taking that seriously was a colossal mistake,” said Prof Mukherjee.
She added that if there is no intervention, by the beginning of May 2021, India will witness 5 lakh cases and 3,000 deaths per day.
“We are going to have about 8-10 lakh reported cases and 4,500 deaths per day for India at the peak,” she added.
“India will witness a peak in mid-May in terms of the number of infections and towards the second half of May for the number of deaths,” Mukherjee further said.
Other case projection models have also predicted a similar timeline for India’s peak. According to a research report by the State Bank of India, India’s second COVID wave peak may happen in the third week of May.
''Based on our models, if we consider the second wave, peak is reached when recovery rate is around 78-79 percent, then the peak could be further away in May. Our model suggests that the estimated peak time is 96 days from 15 February, indicating the peak happening in the 3rd week of May,” said Dr Soumya Kanti Ghosh, Group Chief Economic Adviser at SBI.
The IHME report provides estimated deaths in India due to the virus till 1 August 2021 based on three scenarios:
- The IHME current projection data states that India will record 9,59,561 deaths.
- In the worse case scenario, India will record 10,45,606 deaths.
- In the scenario where there is universal masking policy, India will record 8,80,334 deaths.
Are the Active Cases in India Accurate?
According to experts, the number of active cases that India is currently reporting are a stark contrast to ground reality.
According to IHME, undetected cases in India could be as much as 29 times more than the current estimates.
The serosurvey released by the Centre in February states that undetected cases could be 27.5 times more than the active cases.
According to Prof Mukherjee, underreporting of COVID cases underpins the second wave and have estimated a factor of 10-20 times in their findings. The country, for the past 4 days, has been reporting more than 3 lakh cases every day and more than 2 lakh cases since 15 April.
“We only have picket fences for the tidal wave which is about the come and the country requires more stringent measures and resources to curb the case load,” added Mukherjee.
Prof Mukherjee further pointed out that underreporting of COVID cases in states like Delhi are in the factor of 20-25 times the active cases.
“India is a combination of rural and urban metros. If you look at the urban metros, where most of the serosurveys were conducted, you get a much higher factor that may be driving some of the figures previously quoted,” she said.
What’s Driving the 2nd Wave – New Variants or Public Complacency?
When the country reopened in January, public complacency gripped India. Experts have said it to be one of the biggest contributing factors to explain the second wave.
The virus had the opportunity to mutate and as a result, new strains of the coronavirus were detected in the month of March and April. A new double mutant strain, which is now most commonly found in India, has been detected in 80 percent of the cases. It is said to be the possible culprit.
Even though the Centre hasn’t confirmed it yet, genome sequencing has indicated otherwise. The double mutant strain is said to have a higher transmission rate by 20 percent and a reduced antibody efficacy by more than 50 percent.
A new triple mutant of the virus is also doing the rounds in West Bengal, reported The Times of India.
As the COVID numbers are driving the charts vertically, the “Bengal variant”, as dubbed by TOI, may be a cause of worry as the state which is still left with two phases of polling for Assembly elections.
According to Prof Mukherjee, more research regarding the transmission and lethality of the triple mutant virus needs to be conducted.
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