The second wave of Covid-19 that is battering most parts of India right now could continue till the end of May and the number of new daily cases may rise to about 3 lakh, well-known virologist Dr Shahid Jameel has said. India reported 1,84,372 new coronavirus infections in a 24-hour period, hitting the highest daily tally once again, according to the health ministry on Wednesday. The new figures pushed the total cases to over 1.38 crore, even as the number of deaths rose by 1,027 to 1,72,085.
“What is really scary is the rate at which cases are increasing,” Dr Jameel told CNN-News18 on the show News Epicentre. “If you look at the growth in active cases, that’s about 7% per day. That’s a very high rate of increase. Unfortunately, if this rate keeps on, we will be looking at somewhere around 3 lakh cases per day. And this is what some modellers are suggesting.”
India’s tally of over 1.38 crore Covid cases is the second-highest in the world, behind the United States and ahead of Brazil. New mutant strains of the virus have deepened the problem.
“The new mutants are certainly more infectious but there’s really no good data to show they are less fatal,” said Dr Jameel. He also rejected concerns of a vaccine shortage in India.
“Serum Institute can make about 50-60 million doses a month. Similarly, Bharat Biotech can produce roughly 20-30 million doses a month. If you look at public documents, India has produced roughly 310-320 million doses of vaccine between these two companies,” he said. “Out of that we have used about 120 million doses domestically and roughly 65 million doses have been exported. So there still seems to be somewhere around 100 million doses somewhere in the country. So there really is no shortage as such, it’s really a matter of logistics.”
The issue is how the government is paying for those vaccines and getting them into the system, said Dr Jameel. “Both of these companies are private limited companies, they are not government enterprises. If you are going to ask them to give their vaccines at 150 rupees a dose…You don’t get a good cup of coffee for 150 rupees,” he said.
The Centre and state governments have initiated a raft of measures to rein in the pandemic. Board exams for CBSE class 12 have been postponed and cancelled for class 10. Curfews have been imposed in several parts. Efforts are on to ramp up the inoculation process with new vaccines being allowed entry.
“The trouble that happened in India was that when the vaccination process was opened, we were on a downward slope and everyone thought that Covid had gone away; why should I get vaccinated. Because these vaccines have been developed quickly, they may not be safe, they may not be good, all of that,” said Dr Jameel. “So we didn’t get vaccinated when we were supposed to get vaccinated. Now we are in a race against time as the Covid curve is climbing and this is always going to be a challenge.”
Maharashtra remains the worst-affected state with over 60,000 new cases and 281 deaths in the last 24 hours. Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray announced severe, curfew-like restrictions on public movement over the next 15 days across the state, starting on Wednesday. Delhi saw the highest single-day spike with 13,468 new cases and 81 deaths.
One of the problems, though, is mixed messaging, said Dr Jameel. “You can’t tell a common person to wear a mask when the people they look up to are holding huge rallies,” he said.
Another panellist on the show, eminent pulmonologist Dr Jalil Parker, echoed similar sentiments.
“All these mass gatherings, whether it is religious, political or for marriages…people need to understand that this is not going to help them. On the contrary, it is going to get worse and worse,” he warned. An expert recently said that while in the Western world the pandemic may be over by the end of 2021, in some Asian and other countries it may extend till 2022, he said.