COVID-19 outbreak under control, sans lockdown India would have around 1 L cases by now: Govt
New Delhi: The government said on Friday the nationwide lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was a timely step, without which there would have been an estimated one lakh COVID-19 cases in India by now.
In a press briefing, officials said the virus outbreak is under control in the country and credited a robust surveillance network along with implementation of the lockdown and other containment measures for it.
Of the 11 empowered groups formed to suggest measures to ramp up healthcare, put the economy back on track and reduce misery of people once the lockdown is lifted, chairman of Empowered Group One and Niti Ayog member V K Paul said according to their analysis, lockdown has been effective in slowing the rate at which COVID-19 cases is doubling in India, and it now stands at 10 days.
“If we go back to March 21, the cases were doubling in around three days. An important turn came on March 23 after the Janata Curfew had happened. The direction changed and the doubling rate increased to five. By then, we had already put in place travel restrictions and had created an environment of social distancing.
“There were some disturbances in between and we went back a little. But from April 6, the doubling time started improving,” he said.
Paul also said the big decision of imposing the nationwide lockdown taken by the prime minister has “proved to be very timely and beneficial”, as shown by the change in the growth trajectory of India’s COVID-19 cases.
“The curve has begun to flatten. Had we not taken the decision of clamping the nationwide lockdown, we would have had around 1 lakh COVID-19 cases by now, as per a reasonable estimate. Now, the outbreak is under control,” the Empowered Group One chairman said.
Officials, however, said these projections are based on the growth pattern at a particular time.
Director of National Centre for Disease Control S K Singh that surveillance has been the country’s primary weapon in the fight against novel coronavirus.
“We started our surveillance mechanism even before the first case was reported in India. This played an important role in helping us contain the spread of the infection,” Singh said.
He informed reporters that around 9.45 lakh suspected coronavirus cases are under the surveillance network at present and upon detection of symptoms of the infection, samples are taken from these people for testing.
Singh said the surveillance network has been set up at district level as well, so that household survey, quarantine and isolation are done as part of cluster containment plan.
Joint Secretary in the Health Ministry Lav Agarwal said in the last 28 days, as many as 15 districts have had no new case, while there are 80 districts in the country that have not reported any new coronavirus case in the last 14 day.
He also said in the 24-hour period since Thursday morning, 1,684 COVID 19 positive cases have been reported taking the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 23,077.
“A total of 4,748 people, which is 20.57 per cent of the total number of cases, have been cured so far,” Agarwal said.
…however, scientists say, second wave may hit in monsoon
New Delhi, Apr 23 (PTI) The trajectory of COVID-19 cases could have plateaued and might even fall for some weeks after the lockdown is lifted but India is likely to see a second wave in late July or August with a surge in the number of cases during the monsoon, say scientists.
The timing of the peak will depend on how India is able to control physical distancing and on the level of infection spreads after restrictions are relaxed, they said.
“It looks apparent that the trajectory of daily new cases has reached a plateau and eventually it will take a downward fall, maybe for some weeks or even months,” Samit Bhattacharya, associate professor at the Department of Mathematics, Shiv Nadar University, told PTI.
“Still, we may get a surge of new cases of the same coronavirus and this will be considered a second wave,” Bhattacharya explained.
The second epidemic may come back in late July or August in the monsoon, although the peak timing will depend on how we control social distancing during that time, he said.
Rajesh Sundaresan, professor at Bengaluru’s Indian Institute of Science (IISc), agreed.
“Once we return to normal activity levels, there is a chance that infection may begin to rise again. China is seeing this to some extent post easing of some restrictions on travel,” Sundaresan, corresponding author of a working paper by researchers at IISc and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Mumbai, told PTI.
On Friday, the death toll due to COVID-19 rose to 718 and the number of cases to 23,077, according to the Union Health Ministry.
In good news, officials said this week that the doubling rate of cases has slowed down in the period, going from 3.4 days before lockdown to 7.5 days, with 18 states doing better than the national average. The recovery rate has also almost doubled in the last 10 days.
“Looking at the new cases in the past few days, it seems the growth of new daily infection is much slower than earlier. This apparently indicates that we might have reached at the plateau of the growth curve,” Bhattacharya said.
He noted that recent studies in China and Europe observed that the infection might relapse in those people who have already recovered from earlier phases.
“So, there is no evidence that the earlier infection may help acquire immunity against the second infection. And in that way, the entire population may be vulnerable to the second wave to some extent,” said the scientist.
In their study unveiled this week, IISc and TIFR researchers analysed the impact of strategies such as case isolation, home quarantine, social distancing and various post-lockdown restrictions on COVID-19 that might remain in force for some time.
The study modelled on Bengaluru and Mumbai suggests the infection is likely to have a second wave and the public health threat will remain, unless steps are taken to aggressively trace, localise, isolate the cases, and prevent influx of new infections.
The new levels and the peaking times for healthcare demand depend on the levels of infection spreads in each city at the time of relaxation of restrictions, they said.
“The lockdown is currently upon us. It has given us valuable time. Let us test, trace, quarantine, isolate, practice better hygiene, search for a vaccine, etc. We should do these anyway, and these are being done. When and how to lift the lockdown is going to be a difficult decision to make,” said Sundaresan.
“It’s clear that it’s going to be phased. What our team is focusing on is to come up with tools to help the decision makers assess the public health impact of various choices,” he said.
According to the experts, infectious diseases spread via contact between infectious and susceptible people. In the absence of any control measures, an outbreak will grow as long as the average number of people infected by each infectious person is more than one.
Once enough people are immune there will be fewer people susceptible to the infection and the outbreak will die.
However, when an outbreak is brought under control by social distancing and other interventions, it is possible only a small proportion of the population will have been infected and gained immunity, they said.
This means enough susceptible people may remain to fuel a second wave if controls are relaxed and infection is reintroduced.
“Until the vaccine comes on the market, we have to remain alert… Once sporadic cases occur here and there in the country, we immediately need to implement quarantine or social distancing locally for the people in that region, and also need to perform tests to identify positive cases irrespective of showing symptoms,” Bhattacharya explained.
“Note that these monsoon months are also flu season in many places of India. So, we should not ignore the early signs of the flu symptoms. Irrespective of symptoms, we need to increase tests in the hotspots to identify people and contain the surge,” he said.