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India went past peak in September, Covid may run its course by February: Govt panel

A government-appointed committee of scientists said that their modelling exercise had also shown that the lockdown, particularly its timing in the third week of March, had a significant impact in slowing the spread of the disease, and preventing coronavirus-related deaths.

Written by Amitabh Sinha | Pune | Updated: October 19, 2020 11:12:01 am
India went past peak in September, Covid may run its course by February: Govt panelAt a Covid-19 testing centre in New Delhi (Express photo by Amit Mehra)

The coronavirus epidemic in India may have already peaked and, if the usage of masks and physical distancing measures continue at the current level, the disease will likely “run its course” by February next year, a government-appointed committee of scientists has said.

The committee, headed by Prof M Vidyasagar of IIT Hyderabad, used a new model to map the trajectory of the epidemic in the country. Its key finding is that the disease seems to have peaked in the middle of September, when the number of active cases touched 10.17 lakh. This number has been declining steadily for the last one month, and the committee suggested that the active cases, even if they rise in the coming months due to festivals or cold weather, were unlikely to surpass the figure reached last month.

EXPLAINED | No explanation, but panel experts indicate reasons for both hope and caution

Additionally, the committee, which was set up by the Ministry of Science and Technology a few months ago, has projected that by February 2021, the total number of people who have been infected with the virus at some point in time would not exceed 106 lakh (1 crore 6 lakh). As on Saturday evening, the number of people who have been found to be infected was nearing 75 lakh.

“This of course is premised on the assumption that people would continue to take precautionary measures, at least to the same extent that they are currently doing. This is no reason to relax, or lower our guard, especially with the festival season approaching. If we follow the physical distancing norms, and use face masks, at least in the manner we are doing right now, the model says that by February we would have things under control,” said Prof Manindra Agrawal of IIT Kanpur, who is part of the committee.

READ | How to Make You Wear a Mask

“The big worry, of course, is the upcoming festival season. We have to be careful. We have seen that there was a surge in cases in Kerala after the Onam festival. That is a lesson we must learn from,” he said.

The committee said that their modelling exercise had also shown that the lockdown, particularly its timing in the third week of March, had a significant impact in slowing the spread of the disease, and preventing coronavirus-related deaths.

“Without a lockdown, the number of deaths in India would have overwhelmed the system within a very short timeframe, and would have eventually crossed 26 lakh fatalities. Imposing the lockdown in May would have reduced deaths to around 10 lakh. The prompt imposition of the lockdown on March 24 has resulted in deaths being around one lakh till date,” the committee said in a note.

Without a lockdown, the number of infections would have reached 140 lakh (1.4 crore) in June, the committee said. A late lockdown, in May, would have still seen cases reach 50 lakh in June. “In short, the lockdown flattened the curve,” the committee said.

Also, the committee found that the labour migration that happened immediately after the lockdown had “minimal” impact in terms of spreading the infection in the population. “This observation indicates the success of quarantine strategies adopted for the returning migrants,” it said.

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