India's Covid-19 situation likely to worsen, warn experts

While the R value has to drop below one for the epidemic to come under control, it is significantly high in states like Maharashtra, Punjab, Karnataka, MP and Gujarat
Last Updated 29 March 2021, 03:22 IST

The ongoing second wave of the Covid-19 epidemic is likely to worsen in the coming weeks, necessitating “reinvigoration of the public and private healthcare systems”, officials and public health experts have warned.

While the fatality rate stays low as of now, public health experts are not sure how long such a trend would hold if the caseload continues to pile up.

The Union Health Ministry on Sunday reported more than 62,000 new cases in the past 24 hours for the second time in a row and over 300 Covid-19 deaths for the first time in three months.

"As the current surge has the potential to overwhelm the health care facilities in many districts, there is an urgent need to ensure that health system capacity is augmented," Oommen John, a senior public health researcher at the George Institute for Global Health, here told DH.

This, public health experts say, would require making arrangements for an adequate number of ICU beds and ensuring oxygen supply. Also the vaccination drive needs to be stepped up at least in the high risk districts.

Notwithstanding the second surge, the case fatality rate is low till now.

It declines steadily from 1.75% in July, 2020 to 1.4% in December and 0.79% in February. The CFR for the country stays at 0.59% between March 1-15, 2021.

Even if the fatality rate is low, letting infections grow (seen from the rising R value trend) will eventually lead to a larger total number of deaths," tweeted Bhramar Mukherjee, a researcher at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health.

“The lessons learned from the previous one year needs to be proactively addressed so as to minimise death," added John.

The Union Health Ministry has asked the states to make advance planning of logistics and infrastructure management for 1-1.5 months as any unchecked spread of infection among the community may overwhelm the local administration.

Scientists tracking the epidemic’s progress through computer models have found that the overall R value (a mark of the virus’s transmissibility) has touched 1.32 for India (data up to March 25) – an alarming rise seen after many months.

“This is higher than the R value reported anytime after mid-April when it had reduced from the initial R of 1.82 to 1.28 during the first phase of lockdown,” said Sitabhra Sinha, scientist at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai.

The R is way above one in the 16 most affected states and in all the metros. The figures from Chhattisgarh (1.58), Uttar Pradesh (1.57), Andhra Pradesh (1.56), Delhi (1.5) and Telangana (1.42), may be an indication of alarming situation brewing in these states.

Chhattisgarh (3,162 cases) on Sunday replaced Punjab as the state with second highest daily new cases after Maharashtra (35,726). Karnataka comes at the third spot with 2,886 cases.

While R has to drop below one for the epidemic to contain, it is significantly high in almost all the states and metro cities including Maharashtra, Punjab, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Haryana.

“As the current surge is overwhelming the health care facilities in many districts, there is an urgent need to ensure that health system capacity is augmented,” John said.

(Published 28 March 2021, 16:37 IST)

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