India can check pandemic by Feb-end: Expert panel

6 days ago 26
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NEW DELHI/HYDERABAD: The number of active, symptomatic Covid-19 cases in India has already peaked at around 10 lakh on September 17, a government expert committee’s report said on Sunday. The cumulative total cases may reach 1.06 crore, with negligible growth by the end of February, thereby signalling a consistent downturn, the panel, appointed by the ministry of science and technology and comprising scientists from IITs, IISc Bengaluru, ISI Kolkata and CMC Vellore, added. This means the pandemic can be controlled by early next year with “minimal active symptomatic infections” in February 2021.
Releasing the report based on a mathematical model, the committee was quick to warn the projections wouldn’t hold and the numbers would start rising if proper practices of wearing masks, disinfecting, tracing and quarantine were not followed. The Covid-19 curve would depend on these factors apart from states testing and implementing containment protocols, it said.
India has reported around 75 lakh cases and the report’s findings would indicate an addition of around 26 lakh cases. The current active cases add up to around 7.8 lakh, well below the 9-10 lakh cases reported in mid-September. India’s cumulative positivity rate is 7.95% and it stood at 6.37% on Saturday.
The committee found 30% of the country’s population projected to have antibodies as against 14% in August-end. This is, however, at variance with the ICMR sero survey that indicated 7% antibody prevalence in August-end. Which of the two estimates is more correct may have a bearing on how far the committee's findings pan out.
“This number being at 30% of the population with antibodies at the moment is good news as that is the explanation for the downturn in this pandemic. The other point is that cumulative mortality is projected to be less than 0.04% of total infected,” said Prof M Vidyasagar of IIT Hyderabad who headed the panel.
“We can’t relax because this nice downward trend will continue only if we continue with the protective measures,” Vidyasagar said while making a virtual presentation. According to the panel, India reached its peak four days earlier than the projection (September 21) made by this ‘Covid-19 India National Supermodel’. But without preventive measures, cases can rise by 26 lakh in a month, it said.
“If there was no lockdown, we would have had a peak that was 15 times higher in the middle of June, which would have been overwhelming for the country to cope with. By enforcing the lockdown in March, we not only reduced the load on our system but also pushed the peak to September from the projected May-end,” Prof Vidyasagar said.
In addition to these projections, the committee, based on temporal profiles of analyses done for Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, concluded that the impact of labour migration on infections in these states was minimal, indicating success of quarantine strategies adopted for the returning migrants.
The committee also simulated what would have happened if a lockdown had not been imposed when it was and said the pandemic could have hit India very hard, with a peak load of over 1.4 crore cases in June itself.
“Had India waited until May to impose the lockdown, the peak load of active cases would have been around 50 lakh by June,” it said, noting that imposition of an early and comprehensive lockdown pushed the peak of cases far into the future and also reduced the peak load on the system.
It said the lockdown “flattened the curve”. Analysing the actual deaths from the pandemic with various alternative scenarios, the panel said without a lockdown, the number of deaths would have overwhelmed the system within a very short timeframe, and would eventually have crossed 26 lakh fatalities. India has recorded around 1.14 lakh deaths till now.
“Therefore, the imposition of an early and comprehensive lockdown pushed the peak of cases far into the future and also reduced the peak load on the system,” said Vidyasagar.
With making the projections, the committee suggested that fresh lockdowns should not be imposed on district and state-wide levels, unless there was imminent danger of healthcare facilities being overwhelmed.

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