Epidemiologists at the state-run Tamil Nadu Dr MGR Medical University has predicted, based on mathematical projections, that Chennai city may witness 1.5 lakh Covid-19 cases and up to 1,600 deaths by July second week at the current rate of growth.
The university controls the medical education and medical colleges in the state, and its projections are used by government for active surveillance and preparedness.
Dr G Srinivas, professor and head of the department of epidemiology at the university, said their projection shows the number of cases in Chennai will touch 1.5 lakh by July 15 and will peak in mid-October. The university began projections from April 18, and submitted it to the government in May first week. “The disease continues to spread. However, the government is currently well-prepared to handle the number of cases with enough number of beds, isolation facilities, ICUs and such crucial infrastructure,” he said.
His team’s projection says the state may record 1.3 lakh Covid-19 cases and 769 deaths by June 30.
In 19 days, Covid cases in state jumped from 10,000 to 27,256 on Thursday. The city has 9,066 active cases, and reported 1,072 cases Thursday. Of the total cases reported in Tamil Nadu since March 7, 18,693 cases were from Chennai.
The university in the second week of April predicted that Covid cases will go up from 3,097 to 5,442 in the first 10 days of May. The real figures rose from 2,526 to 7,204 between May 1 and 10. Projection of Covid death number for May 10 was 38 and the actual figure was 47.
Mathematical projections can prompt governments to decide on intervention strategies to contain the spread of the disease, but long-haul projections can be widely off the mark. These projections can also throw up very different scenarios depending on the models used and the assumptions made.
Dr R Ramakrishnan, a senior scientist and former director of the National Institute of Epidemiology said: “Neither are scientists gods nor is this guess work. Just because their projections had been true for the past two months, we cannot say, it can still go wrong in coming months as there are many social factors. But these are indications that deserve to be taken seriously,” he said.
When outstation bus and train services resume, things may change suddenly, he said. “Or if we get a better clarity about clinical symptoms and treatment for Covid-19 from a research abroad or here, all these projections will become insignificant. But like lockdown, which was not to combat the virus but to buy time for the government to prepare, these forecast for July or October also should be taken into consideration,” Ramakrishnan said.
The university’s projections for Chennai were accurate. Their mathematical model had projected 83 deaths on May 25, which came true. Their forecast of cases for the same day — 11,119 —just fell short of 12 cases. When the forecast for June 3 said there will be 17,738 cases and 156 deaths, actual figures were 17,598 and 153.
State disaster management commissioner J Radhakrishnan said 9,034 people have recovered so far in the city. “About 1,000 containment zones (or streets) have not reported a single case in the past 14 days. Highest number of cases are in Chennai but it does not mean the entire city is affected. Maximum number of cases are concentrated in a few localities such as highly congested residential neighbourhoods and slums in Royapuram, Anna Nagar, Teynampet and Kodambakkam.”
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