New Delhi

A government-appointed committee has said that cases of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in India peaked in mid-September and the active cases can largely be contained by February according to mathematical modelling if preventive guidelines are followed, even as Niti Aayog member VK Paul said on Sunday that the possibility of a second wave of infections in the winter can’t be ruled out.

The remarks came on a day Union health minister Harsh Vardhan said community transmission of the disease was restricted to certain districts in some states, saying that “this is not happening across the country”.

For a month now, daily infections in India have been decreasing consistently – the first time this has happened since the outbreak started in early March. For the week ending on Saturday, India reported 63,025 new infections every day on average — a drop of about 33% from the peak recorded in the middle of September, and the lowest this number has touched since the middle of June.

“Our predictions show initially the number of cases was negligible around March, and then we entered this kind of an exponential growth rate and then it began to moderate, and it had peaked somewhere in the middle of September, and now it is beginning to wind down,” said M Vidyasagar, professor, IIT Hyderabad. He is the head of the 10-member government-appointed panel that conducted a study titled ‘Progression of the COVID-19 Pandemic in India: Prognosis and Lockdown Impacts’.

“Bottom line being that the pandemic has peaked; however, this is not a reason for us to relax because this nice downward trend will be maintained only if we continue with the protective measures,” Vidyasagar added.

Professor Manindra Agrawal from IIT Kanpur said: “Looks like the daily active cases that are around 800,000 currently will drop below 40,000 by February-end if we continue to take safety measures.”

The committee developed an evidence-based mathematical model for Covid-19 progression. The ‘Covid-19 India National Supermodel’ was commissioned by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) to experts from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur, IIT Hyderabad, Indian Institute of Science, Indian Statistical Institute, Christian Medical College, National Institute of Epidemiology, ministry of defence, etc.

Niti Aayog member Paul told PTI on Sunday that the number of new Covid-19 cases and deaths have declined in the last three weeks as the spread of the pandemic has stabilised in most states.

Paul, who is also the chief of an expert panel coordinating efforts to tackle the pandemic in the country, said that with the onset of winter, countries across Europe are seeing a resurgence of Covid-19 cases. “We cannot rule out (a second Covid-19 wave this winter in India). Things can happen and we are still learning about the virus,” Paul said. He stressed on Covid-19-appropriate behaviour during the festival season and winter.

The government-appointed expert panel also predicted that without the nationwide lockdown, deaths due to Covid-19 in India would have crossed 2.5 million. India’s Covid-19 deaths currently stand at a little over 100,000.

“Had India waited until May to impose the lockdown, the peak load of active cases would have been around 50 lakh by June. In actuality, the peak of active cases came in late September at around 10 lakh. By this time, we were far better equipped to handle the pandemic in terms of diagnostics and vital equipment inventories,” the panel said.

Epidemiologists also say that the disease appears to have peaked in India. “India seems to have gone through the first peak. Although we should only be reviewing at the state level to understand the dynamics of transmission in different phases. With the onset of the winter, it might be possible that vulnerable people who were safe hitherto can now be infected. We need to ensure that old-age groups and those with comorbidities are protected. We haven’t touched bear baseline levels and still a vast proportion of the population is susceptible,” said Dr Giridhara Babu, head, epidemiology, Indian Institute of Public Health.

Though the committee recommended that the existing personal safety protocols need to continue in full measure to ensure that cases do not rise again, it did not suggest imposing fresh lockdowns at district and state levels unless there was an imminent danger of the health care facilities being overwhelmed.

The Union health minister held an interaction with his social media followers on the sixth episode of “Sunday Samvaad”. “In different pockets across various states, including West Bengal, community transmission of Covid-19 is expected to occur, especially in densely populated areas,” he said during the event.

“However, this is not happening across the country. Community transmission is limited to certain districts, occurring in a limited number of states,” Vardhan said.

With inputs from PTI

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