Is the worst of the Covid crisis behind India?
As cases dip three weeks after Diwali, the answer is a possible yes, say several experts, attributing the downslide to a large section of the population already exposed to the virus during the second wave and a stepped up vaccination campaign.
Covid cases may rise, perhaps across late December-February, but the impact will be milder than what India experienced in the second wave when thousands died and many thousands more were hospitalised.
It may not take off in a coordinated manner across the country, provided no far more transmissible variant comes along, explained Gautam Menon, professor, Departments of Physics and Biology, Ashoka University, in Sonepat.
Several epidemiologists had predicted a third wave peaking in October and November because of large gatherings in the festive season, which includes Durga Puja and Diwali. But the much feared spike thankfully hasn’t happened.
On Tuesday, India recorded 7,579 new coronavirus infections, the lowest in 543 days, taking the country’s total tally of COVID-19 cases to 3,45,26,480, while active cases were the lowest in 536 days, according to Union Health Ministry data.
The daily rise in new infections has been below 20,000 for 46 straight days and less than 50,000 daily new cases have been reported for 149 consecutive days. What it suggests is that the impact of the second wave, where a substantial fraction of Indians were infected, continues to manifest itself, Menon told PTI.
In addition, a stepped-up vaccination campaign has meant that more people are protected against severe disease, hospitalisation, and death, he added.
In his view, the substantial number of people infected during the second wave from March to July this year is the prime protective feature at the moment for India, while vaccines add to that protection.
A combination of a prior infection with a later vaccination may be even more protective than just the vaccination alone, said Menon.
Many scientific studies suggest that people who become naturally infected with Covid and recover before vaccination develop hybrid immunity, better immunity than those who only have antibodies from vaccination.
Virologist Anurag Agrawal agreed with Menon, saying the low number of cases can be attributed to a high fraction of the population being infected by the Delta variant during the second wave, followed by most adults having received at least one vaccine dose further boosting the immune response. Serosurveys have shown that the majority of the population is likely to have been infected, Agrawal, director of the CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, New Delhi, told PTI.
It is a well-established fact that complete vaccination as well as previous exposure with SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19, lead to a significant decrease in the severity of the disease, added immunologist Vineeta Bal.