COVID-19 second wave in India may peak by mid-April, say scientists

By Express News Service
NEW DELHI:  On the first day of the major expansion of the Covid-19 vaccination drive that has now opened for all above 45 years of age, the falling inoculation figures surged again as the doses administered on Thursday crossed 2 million mark, after a gap of several days. 

A total of 22,94,254 beneficiaries received jabs till about 10 pm on Thursday a day after 72,000 Covid-19 cases were detected countrywide — the vaccination dashboard maintained by the Centre showed.

Seeking to exponentially expand the countrywide anti-coronavirus inoculation drive, the Centre has decided to keep all public and private sector COVID-19 vaccination centres (CVCs) operational throughout April, including on gazetted holidays.

The Union health ministry has written to all states and union territories on Thursday and asked them to make necessary arrangements for this to optimally utilise all vaccination centres across the public and private sectors to ensure rapid increase in the pace and coverage of COVID inoculation.

“This decision is in line with the graded and pro-active approach employed by the government of India along with the states and union territories for COVID-19 vaccination,” the health ministry said.

More than 6.75 crore vaccine doses have been administered across the country so far.

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Meanwhile, many younger beneficiaries in several parts of the country complained that it took a long time to take the shot and they had to wait in long queues even after registering well in advance.

Authorities in states, on the other hand, claimed that the CoWIN portal, which is central to the vaccination process, was slow as a result of which uploading documents and verification took time.

In India, where the highest vaccinations in a single day over 3 million was achieved on March 22, this figure had gone down considerably over the last weekend due to Holi.

The second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, meanwhile, has resulted in a massive surge in cases in several states.

So far, a total of 6,75,36,392 vaccine doses have been administered, as per the provisional report which include 88,48,558 healthcare workers who have taken the first dose and 52,63,108 healthcare workers who have taken the second dose.

Also, 93,99,776 frontline workers have now been given the first dose and 39,18, 646 in the category have received the second dose.

Importantly, among the general population 4,01,06,304 over the age of 45 years old which include mostly those above 60, have now taken the shots against COVID-19.

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Officials at the Centre have suggested that the government has set a target of achieving about 5 million vaccinations a day. 

The countrywide vaccination drive was rolled out on January 16 with healthcare workers (HCWs) getting inoculated and vaccination of frontline workers (FLWs) started from February 2.

The next phase of COVID-19 vaccination commenced from March 1 for those over 60 years of age and for people aged 45 and above with specified co-morbid conditions.

The ministry said so far vaccine doses have been administered to 88,48,558 HCWs (first dose), 52,63,108 HCWs (second dose), 93,99,776 FLWs (first dose) and 39,18,646 FLWs (second dose).

It also includes 4,01,06,304 beneficiaries aged 45 and above.

As many as 16,20,746 beneficiaries received the first dose and 1,26,348 received the second dose of vaccine, the ministry said, adding final reports will be compiled by late night.

According to data till 8 pm, 15,28,639 beneficiaries aged 45 or above were administered the first dose on Thursday.

Meanwhile, experts have recommended speeding up the inoculation drive by scaling up capacity with collaboration with private providers to contain the rapidly increasing second wave.

On Tuesday, the government had said India is facing an increasingly severe and intensive situation in some districts but the entire country is potentially at risk.

“All efforts to contain the virus and save lives should be taken,” Dr VK Paul, Member NITI Aayog (Health) had said.

“The private sector needs to come forward and participate in the vaccination drive. We were told there are 20,000 private vaccination centres in the country. But less than 6,000 vaccination centres are being run by the private sector in India. We request the private sector to make the remaining vaccination centres functional and increase their number,” he had said.

According to the health ministry, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Punjab, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh continue to show a steep rise in the COVID daily new cases accounting for 84.61 per cent of the new cases reported in a span of 24 hours.

Maharashtra has reported the highest daily new cases at 39,544.

It is followed by Chhattisgarh with 4,563 while Karnataka reported 4,225 new cases.

India’s active caseload has reached 5,84,055 and now comprises 4.78 per cent of the country’s total infections.

A net rise of 31,489 cases has been recorded in the total active caseload in a span of 24 hours.

Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Chhattisgarh and Punjab cumulatively account for 78.9 per cent of the total active cases in the country.

Maharashtra alone accounts for more than 61 per cent of the active caseload of the country.

The Centre has been advising the states and union territories to increase the proportion of RT-PCR tests to more than 70 per cent of the total tests.

India’s cumulative recoveries stand at 1,14,74,683 with 40,382 recoveries being registered in a span of 24 hours.

A total of 459 deaths were reported in a day, the highest so far this year.

Six states account for 83.01 per cent of the new deaths.

Maharashtra saw the maximum casualties (227).

Punjab follows with 55 daily deaths, the ministry said.

Meanwhile, experts have recommended speeding up the drive by scaling up capacity in collaboration with private providers to contain the rapidly increasing second wave.

India is facing an increasingly severe and intensive situation in some districts, but the entire country is potentially at risk, the Centre said on Tuesday.

“All efforts to contain the virus and save lives should be taken,” Dr VK Paul, Member NITI Aayog (Health) told reporters on Tuesday.

Dr Paul heads the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 and is a core member of the Centre’s COVID-19 response team.

“The private sector needs to come forward and participate in the vaccination drive. We were told there are 20,000 private vaccination centres in the country. But less than 6,000 vaccination centres are being run by the private sector in India. We request the private sector to make the remaining vaccination centres functional and increase their number,” he said.

In the wake of the surging new cases, the Centre may be forced to recalibrate its vaccine diplomacy, Dr Girdhar Gyani, Secretary General, Association of Healthcare Providers- India (AHPI) said.

There should be lesser exports till the time the Indian situation stabilises, he said.

“The government shall not take such a big chance at the moment as our country needs to be vaccinated at utmost priority.”

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“The private sector has created world-class systems and integrating continuous learnings on this. Hence we have urged the government to ramp up the vaccination strategy by leveraging the private sector’s full strength and also urge the people of India to practice basic hygiene,” said Dr Gyani.

In India, the cases peaked in September after which they started declining and the per day cases were less than 9,000 in early February.

The numbers started increasing exponentially again in March.

Rajneesh Bhandari, Founder NeuroEquilibrium, said, “In India, our air-conditioning and cooling start during the summers and people stay and work in closed spaces.

Thus, as the temperature increases, we are seeing the number of COVID cases increasing.

COVID-19 has not spread much in rural areas because people are not living or working in closed spaces. However, the drive needs scale with the help of private providers.”

Bhandari said the spread of coronavirus is a very complex phenomenon, and science is still grappling with the multiplicity of parameters.

“Some parameters that may influence the spread include social distancing, proper use of masks, virus variants, temperature, humidity, vaccination, etc. Various studies have found an inverse correlation between temperature and the daily number of cases.”

“One US study estimates that every one-degree increase in minimum temperature leads to a decrease in the cumulative number of cases by 0.86,” added Bhandari.

The second wave of COVID-19 in Europe and the US was much more severe than the first wave and peaked during winters when people stayed closed doors, he said.

(With PTI Inputs)