|COVID crisis far from over in India|
NEW DELHI, Sept 24 - From 500 cases to 57 lakh. Six months after a nationwide lockdown, COVID-19 is spreading fast across the length and breadth of India with more testing and developments on the vaccine front but no clarity on when the disease will be controlled, say scientists.
On March 24,Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a 21-day lockdown for the entire country, stating it was the only way to break the chain of infection. At the time, the number of people infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus was a little over 500 and the death toll 12.
Six months on, India has the second highest number of cases in the world after the US with a tally of 57.32 lakh cases, 86,508 people testing positive in a day and a total of 91,149 fatalities, according to Union Health Ministry figures on Thursday.
As COVID-19 rages – and even laypersons get conversant with the complexities of RT-PCR tests versus the cheaper but not so reliable rapid antigen tests – US-based epidemiologist Ramanan Laxminarayan said there is a hidden epidemic happening even as the pandemic spreads.
He noted that the infection is spreading widely across all parts of the country, including into rural India, although the visibility is lower in places where testing is weak or inadequate.
We will likely see some increases in states like UP and Bihar but only if RT-PCR testing increases. Right now, we have a hidden epidemic in many parts of the country which have weak health systems, the director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy in Washington told PTI.
However, he expects the number of cases to start coming down in the next month or two as India approaches some sense of population immunity. As a substantial number of the population is infected and recovers from the disease, they are unlikely to spread the virus.
Given the precautions that are being taken both by the government and individuals, the epidemic has slowed down.This would mean that we would see a sustained plateau for a while before the cases start coming down, Laxminarayan said.
On March 23, a day before the Prime Minister announced the lockdown and two days before it came into force, India had tested 18,383 samples. Till September 22, this had gone up to at least 6,62,79,462 tests, both RT-PCR and rapid antigen.
The recoveries have gone up to over 46 lakh people, pushing the national recovery rate to 81.55 per cent.
Immunologist Satyajit Rath sounded a note of caution and said India is still at the stage of spreading viral infection across communities.
With global, international travel as the point of origin, the infection was first established in urban high-density localities, and is now spreading from those into the rest of the country, at widely varied speeds, Rath, from the National Institute of Immunology (NII) in New Delhi, told PTI.
The infection has never really been under control in India, he said.
The early harsh prolonged lockdown somewhat delayed the large-scale establishment of the infection. But ‘control’ has never been a possibility. So we are certainly going to see growth in the infection numbers for quite a long while yet, Rath added.
Immunologist Vineeta Bal concurred with Rath, saying the Indian government did not learn much despite experiences from other parts of the world and announced complete draconian lockdowns that were extended for long periods. – PTI