India may have Covid-19 under control by February, says top scientist

India has had 148,000 coronavirus deaths, according to the Health Ministry.
India has had 148,000 coronavirus deaths, according to the Health Ministry.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW DELHI - India is seeing a six-month low of daily Covid-19 cases even as multiple Indian states have imposed restrictions to ensure New Year celebrations will not erode these gains.

India, the world's second worst-hit country by the pandemic after the US, with over 10.2 million cases, has seen daily cases hovering at around 20,000, in stark contrast to a high of 97,000 cases in mid-September.

Active cases have fallen to below 270,000 for the first time in six months.

The downward trend in the world's second most populous country comes in spite of Covid fatigue within the population, with not all following social distancing norms or wearing masks.

While there is no definitive single reason, epidemiologists and scientists believe a key factor is that dense urban centres, which were the worst affected, now have some level of community protection, coupled with a slower increase in cases in rural parts which are not as densely populated.

Based on a mathematical study commissioned by the government, a group of top scientists in October concluded that the pandemic - which turned urban centres like capital city Delhi and financial capital Mumbai into Covid-19 hot spots - peaked in India in September and will be under control by February.

Delhi, for instance, recorded 703 cases on Monday (Dec 30), compared with over 7,000 new cases daily in November.

Professor Mathukumalli Vidyasagar, who led the study, said the October predictions were "holding up pretty well".

"The pandemic will reach a manageable proportion by the end of February. As per our current projections, it will hit 30,000 to 40,000 active cases, or possibly fewer, before the end of February," said Prof Vidyasagar, of the Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad, and also a fellow of the Royal Society of London.

"The cases are coming down because the number of people who have developed immunity to the virus is high. The two serological surveys conducted by the ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) and our model also show that in the cities the pandemic spread in the initial stages where people were crowded together and they came into contact with each other quite a bit more. It means immunity also developed faster."

Virologist Shahid Jameel noted that a clutch of serological surveys pointed to 30 per cent positivity across India, and somewhere in the range of 50 per cent in large dense cities.

"This decline (in coronavirus cases) has been steady and prolonged, with the fall somewhat slower than the rise. Within this fall in national figures there are small regional spikes and that will continue to happen in the days to come," he said.

The country has had 148,000 coronavirus deaths, according to the Health Ministry. Of these cases, 70 per cent were men. In the past week, there were two deaths per million population in India, compared with 47 deaths per million population in the US.

"The situation is very encouraging but we still need to keep the vigil. We should not fritter away our gains through carelessness and premature declaration of victory. That is the lesson from global experience," said Professor K. Srinath Reddy, the president of the Public Health Foundation of India, who noted that more effective testing and isolation protocols were also factors behind the downturn.