World Insights: Experts warn imminent third wave of COVID-19 pandemic in India

NEW DELHI, Sept. 1: With scars of the deadly second wave of COVID-19 still fresh in the minds of Indians, health experts have already warned about a third wave of the pandemic hitting the country in the upcoming months.

Indian Medical Association (IMA), the country’s leading organization of doctors, warned in July that the third wave of the pandemic was inevitable and imminent, based on the global evidence available and the history of pandemics.

IMMINENT THIRD WAVE

The Indian government on Tuesday reported 30,941 new cases in the last 24 hours, dropping from around 40,000 in the previous days.

Authorities have almost opened up markets and relaxed the restrictions imposed to curb the spread of infection. Educational institutions have also been reopened in most states.

Despite the relaxed restrictions, a panel under the Ministry of Home Affairs has warned that the third wave of COVID-19 may hit India between September and October. The panel has recommended that the federal government should step up the inoculation drive significantly to tame the imminent surge in infections.

In its report to the Prime Minister’s office, the panel has underscored a critical need of paediatric facilities, including doctors, staff, and equipment like ventilators and ambulances, adding that the available infrastructure was “nowhere close” to the requirement if the need arose.

“STAGE OF ENDEMICITY”

Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist of the World Health Organization (WHO), recently told a news portal that COVID-19 in India may be entering “some kind of stage of endemicity where there is a low or moderate level of transmission going on.”

“We are not seeing the kinds of exponential growth and peaks that we saw a few months ago,” Swaminathan said.

The scientist added that while it is possible that a large number of children could get infected in the third wave, they are unlikely to fall seriously ill. She mentioned specifically that there is no need to be panic on this score although it is advisable to be prepared for more infections in children.

“We can take from the serosurvey and what we learnt from other countries that while it is possible that children could get infected and transmit, children luckily have very mild illness most of the time and there is a small percentage (of children) that get sick and get inflammatory complications,” she said, adding that children’s death rate will be “much much less” than the adults.

THE WAY OUT

A report by a group of experts with the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) said if the current vaccination rate of 7.6 percent does not go up, India can witness 600,000 cases per day in the third wave.

But if the government’s proposal to increase this rate by five times to 10 million doses per day comes to fruition, India will see only 25 percent of the cases seen in the second wave during its third wave peak, it added, saying that vaccination is the only way out.

Last week India’s federal health minister said that 50 percent of India’s eligible population (currently above 18) had received their first jab of the vaccine.

The country’s drug regulator has also approved Zydus Cadila’s vaccine for children above 12, but the drive is yet to begin.

PREPARATIONS IN PLACE

Vinod Paul, member of the National Institution for Transforming India, recently said that in the upcoming surge of COVID-19, there will be a hospitalization rate of 23 percent.

Paul, who is also heading the COVID-19 task force of the federal government, warned that in September, India can witness a staggering 400,000 to 500,000 daily infections and has asked the federal government to prepare 200,000 ICU beds.

State governments are taking precautions ahead of the possible third wave to hit India during September and October.

In the hardest-hit state of Maharashtra, the local government has decided to appoint 1,200 doctors by Sept. 5, the state’s Health Minister Rajesh Tope said.

Tope added that the state will increase production of oxygen to 2,000 metric tons per day from 1,200-1,300 metric tons, and will have granted primary health care centers 500 more ambulances by Sept. 30, adding to the existing 500.

In Gujarat, authorities have set up 15,000 pediatric oxygen beds.

“The need of the hour is to prepare for the third wave if and when it hits the nation,” the NIDM report highlighted. “India’s second wave of COVID-19 and the challenges posed have been alarming and need strong policy interventions at all levels with immediate, short, and medium- to long-term priorities, in order to be best prepared for the third wave.”