Experts believe India is unlikely to see a fresh COVID-19 wave of infections like the devastating second one unless there is a new immune escaping variant. Experts also warn that this does not mean that the pandemic is now endemic. They said a dipping COVID graph is only part of the picture and pointed to factors such as the mortality rate and the need for a larger vaccination cover.
Shahid Jameel, virologist and visiting professor at Ashoka University in Haryana, lauded India’s milestone achievement of 100 crore COVID vaccine doses. He told PTI that while vaccination rates have improved significantly, more needs to be done. “I am not sure we are in the endemic state yet. As we celebrate this 100 crore landmark, there is still some distance to go. We are going towards endemicity, but are not there yet.”
Jameel noted that daily confirmed COVID cases in India have been decreasing slowly over the past three months from about 40,000 per day to about 15,000 per day now. He also pointed out that the mortality rate in the country remains steady at about 1.2%. “This tells me that the vaccine coverage in India still needs to increase.”
Murad Banaji, senior lecturer in mathematics at UK’s Middlesex University, says there have been some confused claims about a disease being described as endemic when it continues to be present within a given geographical area, but its impact is manageable. “Low cases for some time do not necessarily mean endemicity. It is possible that endemicity is close in some parts of the country, but the data needed to confirm this is not easily available,” he said. “For example, we do not know what an endemic future would look like or what levels of COVID to expect. What is likely is that measures to control transmission will still be needed for some years to come.”
Ramanan Laxminaryan, an epidemiologist, director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy in Washington, believes there can be periodic flare-ups even with an endemic disease as is being observed in the UK. “I believe we should wait for another two months before determining whether COVID-19 poses a significant future threat to the country.
Experts say India will continue to experience local increases in COVID-19 cases even though it is unlikely to see another overwhelming surge in infections like it did during the second wave when the country’s healthcare system was overwhelmed and thousands died. New variants could potentially still pose a challenge. Any new variant which spreads much more easily amongst people who are vaccinated or have been previously infected, could lead to new surges.