While the number of daily coronavirus infections in Maharashtra have been falling constantly over the last 40 days, state health officials are bracing for a second wave in state, possibly in December or January when it gets cooler.
Maharashtra’s first peak came in mid-September, when the daily case count crossed 24,000. On September 5, the state went past the 20,000 mark in daily cases, and on September 11, the public health department reported 24,886 cases, the highest for any state in India. The cases started to decline after a fortnight, and September 24 onwards, they fell back under 20,000, and have continued to decline ever since
On Sunday (October 25), 6,059 cases were reported in the state, and the following day the number of new cases crashed to just 3,645. On October 27, 5,653 new cases were reported.
Maharashtra’s graph is important because it directly impacts India’s national caseload; therefore, a decline in Maharashtra numbers has been reflected in a decline in India’s overall Covid-19 numbers. As of Thursday (October 29) afternoon, Maharashtra was reporting 1,30,286 active cases of Covid-19 infection (1,783 fewer than the previous day), which was 21.6 per cent of India’s overall active case load of 6,03,687 (down 7,116 since the previous day).
The states with the next highest active caseloads were Kerala (93,369; up 1,103 cases since the previous day) and Karnataka (68,180; down 3,169 since the previous day).
The reasons for the decline in Maharashtra
“You need fuel for a fire. When there is no fuel left, which is susceptible people, then the spread of the infection can decline,” said Professor Gagandeep Kang of Christian Medical College, Vellore. She said that if the susceptible population is protected, and if person-to-person transmission is blocked, cases will start declining.
The novel coronavirus is highly transmissible. Its spread depends on how many other people the infectious cases come in contact with, for how long that contact lasts, and how frequently the contact occurs. Dr Kang explained that if infectious people increasingly encounter those who are already infected, new cases will start reducing. The situation in Maharashtra could be similar.
Epidemiologist and state Covid-19 Surveillance Officer Dr Pradeep Awate said the development of antibodies and T-cell immunity against the virus, and the march towards herd immunity, was continuing in the community, leading to a fall in case numbers. A strong indicator of this was the rising sero-prevalence (or the prevalence of antibodies) in the population.
Maharashtra’s daily positivity rate was over 24 per cent in September; it is now below 10 per cent. On October 27, it was 9.6 per cent. This means that out of every 100 people tested, only about 9-10 were returning positive results.📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram
The United States saw a second wave in July, and is in the middle of a third wave now, which seems worse than the first two waves. Europe too, is seeing a strong second wave, with countries like Belgium and the Czech Republic experiencing spikes in positivity and fresh cases.
Cases are rising dramatically in France, Italy, Germany, Hungary, Poland, the UK, Portugal, and Ukraine. Lockdowns are returning in two of the Continent’s biggest economies — starting Friday (October 30), people in France will be able to leave home only for essential reasons, and Germany is closing restaurants, bars, gyms, and theatres. In the UK, nearly 1 lakh people are catching the virus every day, according to a new study by Imperial College London.
A combination of factors is responsible for the new wave.
The Czech Republic saw a spike after schools were reopened on September 1. In Belgium, numbers rose after the government said at the end of September that it was no longer mandatory to wear masks in public places, except the crowded ones. In the UK, the unevenness and incoherence of the response by Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been blamed, as also the government’s attempts to help the restaurant industry through its ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ initiative.
With phase-wise reopening of economic activities in Maharashtra, a second wave may not be surprising. Dr Awate said that based on the current situation in Europe and the US, they have analysed the Covid peaks of individual districts and added 10 per cent cases to it as an estimate of a possible new peak. “We have asked district officials to prepare for isolation beds accordingly,” he said.
The second wave may hit in December or January next year, when lower temperatures will be conducive for the virus, state health officials said.
Also all restrictions would likely be lifted by then. Already malls, gyms, restaurants have opened up. Local trains in Mumbai are slowly increasing passenger load. Soon, more economic fronts like cinemas, offices and restaurants operating to full capacity, will be opened. The festival season has begun, and the intermingling of people will increase the possibility of the virus spreading.
Together, these factors may lead to another wave. Dr Kang said this was only the first year of Covid-19, and there are several unknown variables. “Everything we do with reopening activity is an experiment. We are learning. We may find that we have to shut these activities down if rates go up. As we try opening up various activities, we will be better informed about future decisions,” Dr Kang said.