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Thursday, January 20, 2022

Explained: Rise in Covid-19 cases, slower growth

After dipping in Delhi and Mumbai, the daily case count has risen again on Wednesday. Nationally, deaths outside of Kerala have jumped. And cases are still climbing, although the rate of growth has declined.

Written by Amitabh Sinha | Pune |
Updated: January 13, 2022 4:56:11 pm
A health workers takes a sample for Covid-19 testing

More than 2.3 lakh new cases of coronavirus infections were reported from across the country on Wednesday, a big jump compared to the last few days, indicating that it was still premature to read much into the apparent recent slowdown in cities such as Mumbai and Delhi.

Another concern has been the sharp rise in the number of coronavirus-related deaths in the country. Deaths outside of Kerala have almost doubled in just the last three days, crossing 170 on Wednesday. Kerala has been adding a large number of previously uncounted deaths into its tally every day, thus contributing most to the daily count of deaths in the country. But there is a significant rise in the number of deaths being reported from other states now. Delhi alone reported 40 deaths on Wednesday.

Slowdown

The sharp decline in the new cases in Mumbai in the last five days had given rise to hopes that the city had already attained the peak of the third wave. A part of it was due to the weekend dip in testing, but the downward trend had continued till Tuesday. Compared to nearly 21,000 new cases last Friday, its all-time peak, Mumbai reported 11,647 cases on Tuesday. But a sharp rise was seen on Wednesday, with the detection of 16,420 cases.

Delhi, the first city to experience the surge in the third wave, also seemed to have entered a slowdown after the sharp rise in cases in the first week of this month. On Wednesday, however, more than 27,000 cases were detected in the city, very close to its all-time high of 28,395, attained during the second wave.

Maharashtra, the largest contributor of cases in the country, is in a similar situation. The state reported more than 40,000 cases on January 7, but it hasn’t increased significantly after that, thanks mainly to the dip seen in Mumbai. On Wednesday, however, Maharashtra reported over 46,000 cases, the highest in the current wave.

In the last five days, a slowdown could be noticed at the national level as well, with the rise in daily cases not being as rapid as in the first week of January. The seven-day moving average of new cases has been increasing at a much slower rate (see chart). It took just eight days for the daily case count to increase from less than 10,000 to over a lakh. In the last five days, it has moved from 1.40 lakh to 1.95 lakh.

But this could change anytime. Wednesday already saw a large increase in cases. With ten relatively smaller states and Union Territories yet to report their numbers, the case count has already gone beyond 2.3 lakh.

Just starting in some states

While states such as Maharashtra and West Bengal went into the third wave early, several states are just beginning to see a surge in their numbers. This includes large states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar which, because of their populations, have the potential to log in very large numbers of infections. During the second wave, UP had reached a peak of over 37,000 cases, while Bihar had clocked close to 16,000. On Wednesday, UP reported 13,592 cases while Bihar had 6,413.

In fact, among the major states, only West Bengal has so far crossed its second wave peak. Other states, including Maharashtra, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh are well below their peaks right now.

Relatively low positivity

India’s positivity rate has risen sharply in the last two weeks, but is nowhere close to the levels seen during the second wave last year. The positivity rate, which is the proportion of people who test positive out of the total number of people being tested, is a good indicator of the spread of the disease in the population. As on Tuesday, India’s weekly positivity rate had risen to 9.18%, compared to just about 1% at the beginning of the year, suggesting a quick spread of infection during this time.

During the peak of the second wave last year, the weekly positivity rate had crossed 22%. But that was also because the peak then was reached in a much gradual fashion with a very large number of people testing positive for a prolonged period of over two months.

This time, the rise has been sudden, and steep. Also, the third wave is nowhere near its peak right now, with several estimates suggesting that it would easily cross the 4.14 lakh mark attained during the second wave.

Deaths

The most noticeable indicator right now happens to be the death count, however. With the Omicron variant, which is driving the third wave, known to result in mostly mild diseases, it was not expected to cause many deaths. But as the third wave entered into the second week in India, the death count is showing a very clear upward move.

Non-Kerala deaths crossed the three-figure mark for the first time on January 10, and has risen sharply after that. The last three days have seen 111, 146 and 177 deaths being reported respectively from states other than Kerala.

On Wednesday, Delhi reported 40 deaths, the highest outside of Kerala, while Maharashtra and West Bengal reported 37 and 23 respectively. As many as six states, apart from Kerala, are now reporting double-digit deaths. Until the last week of December, about 20 states had been reporting zero deaths. That has come down to less than ten states now.

Health authorities say that most of the deaths are still incidental, with people dying of other causes after getting detected as Covid-positive. Deaths due to coronavirus are still very few, and only among people with serious co-morbid conditions.

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