COVID-19 vaccination awareness in Chennai.

(B A Raju/TOI, BCCL, Chennai)

Just as India was preparing to heave a sigh of relief after the devastating second wave of COVID-19 in April and May, warning signs of a third wave have started to emerge in some parts of the country. The mathematical models of various institutes have forecast that India may witness a spike in COVID-19 infections as soon as the end of August, thus giving way for the impending third wave.

One of the mathematical models developed by the Indian Institute of Technology in Hyderabad and Kanpur has foreseen that the third wave is likely to peak in October. As per reports, Mathukumalli Vidyasagar and Manindra Agrawal, scientists working on this model, also accurately predicted the peak of the second wave in India.

“There will be a slight increase towards the end of August and through September. It’s mainly because the lockdown is lifted. It’s not due to any new variant. There is no sign of any new mutant anywhere. So, without a new variant, the third wave will just be a ripple,” Manindra Agrawal of IIT Kanpur told The Times of India.

Another model by the University of Michigan led by Dr Bharmar Mukherjee also portrays similar projections. It highlights that India is likely to witness a “small bump” by the end of August, with a peak around November.

How devastating would this wave be?

A silver lining in most such projections is that the third wave is likely to be much smaller than the previous one, where cases staggered to over a whopping four lakhs per day.

According to the IITs model named SUTRA, the daily cases are likely to reach one lakh in the best-case scenario. Even in the worst-case situation, the infections are expected to spike only up to 150,000 in a day. Moreover, the cases may remain around 50,000, devoid of the emergence of new variants.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has also estimated that the third wave would not witness a surge in cases similar to that of the second wave. The ICMR models considered parameters such as fading immunity and the potential rise of a new variant that can escape immunity or are highly transmissible.

On the other hand, scientists have also warned that the lingering threat of the highly infectious Delta variant may surge the wave. The Indian Sars-CoV-2 Genomic Consortium (INSACOG) has highlighted that eight out of every ten infections between May and July were caused by the Delta variant.

Projections for the Indian states

In the country, Kerala and Maharashtra are the places that could witness a substantial rise due to high infection rates. In fact, Kerala has been reporting half of the daily new infections of the country with active cases of over 1.65 lakh—thus making it currently the worst-affected state in India. The state has also been conducting a maximum number of tests in India.

Sending an early alarm, the Central government has warned 10 Indian states to impose strict measures. These include Maharashtra, Kerala, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Mizoram, Assam, Manipur, and Meghalaya. The Centre has also warned about 53 districts with a positivity rate between 5% and 10% to follow strict curbs and amplify testing measures.

Overall, experts reiterate an urgent need to ramp up efforts on vaccination, monitor emerging hotspots, pace up genome sequencing to detect the prevalence of any new variant and curtail crowd movement as much as possible. It’s too soon to let our guards down!

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