How deadly could the third wave be? Govt panel lists out three scenarios

Manindra Agarwal, the scientist of a government panel tasked with modelling COVID cases, says the infection could spread faster during the third wave

According to a graph shared by the team, the second wave is likely to plateau by mid-August

Amid multiple reports suggesting the possibility of a third COVID wave hitting India, a top government scientist has hinted that it could hit the country in October or November.

Manindra Agarwal, the scientist of a government panel tasked with modelling COVID cases, said the infection could spread faster during the third wave if any new virulent variant emerged.

Agarwal is working with the Sutra Model, the mathematical projection of the COVID-19 trajectory. The panel was formed by the Department of Science and Technology last year to forecast the surge of coronavirus cases using mathematical models.

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The panel had earlier received flak for not predicting the ferocity of the second wave of COVID in the country.

Also read: Lockdowns and travel restrictions return as Delta variant races across the globe

About the predictions for the third wave, Agarwal said the loss of immunity, effects of vaccination and the possibility of a more virulent variant have been factored in this time, which was not done while modelling the second wave.

Agarwal listed out three scenarios:

  1. One is optimistic, where we assume that life goes back to normal by August and there is no new mutant.
  2.  Another is intermediate where we assume that vaccination is 20 per cent less effective in addition to optimistic scenario assumptions.
  3.  The final one is pessimistic with assumptions different from the intermediate one: a new 25 per cent more infectious mutant spreads in August (it is not Delta plus, which is not more infectious than the Delta variant)

According to a graph shared by Agarwal, the second wave is likely to plateau by mid-August and a possible third wave could reach its peak between October and November. In the pessimistic scenario, the third wave could see daily COVID cases rise up between 1,50,000 and 2,00,000 in the country, the scientist noted.

The figure is less than half of what was recorded when the deadly second wave had hit its peak in the first half of May, flooding hospitals with patients and claiming thousands of lives daily.

On May 7, India had recorded 4,14,188 COVID-19 cases, the highest during the second wave.

If a new mutant emerges, the third wave could spread rapidly, but it will be half of what the second wave was.

Delta variant is infecting people who contracted a different variant earlier. So this has been taken into consideration, Agarwal said.

Another panel member, M Vidyasagar, said hospitalisation could be less during the third wave. He cited the example of the UK where in January more than 60,000 cases were reported with daily deaths touching 1,200. However, during the fourth wave, the number dropped to 21,000 cases and just 14 deaths.

“Vaccination played a major role in bringing down the cases that needed hospitalisation in the UK. This has been factored in while coming out with the three scenarios,” Vidyasagar told PTI.

The government has been emphasising on vaccination as the fear of the third wave looms.

Also read: All countries should vaccinate 10% of population by September: WHO chief

Agarwal also explained the reasons behind the delay in coming out with an analysis for the third wave.

“It took us a while to do the analysis for three reasons. First, loss of immunity in the recovered population. Second, vaccination-induced immunity. Each of these two needs to be estimated for the future. And third, how to incorporate these two factors in the Sutra model. Fortunately, it turned out that both can be incorporated by suitably changing contact rate and reach parameters… The first two factors required detailed analysis,” he tweeted.

Agarwal added that his team went through studies done in the past on the loss of immunity while making the projections

“Similarly, we also looked at the projected vaccination rate over the next few months, including the effects of vaccine-hesitancy, and arrived at month-wise estimates for vaccination,” he said.

Besides Agarwal, who is a scientist with IIT-Kanpur, the panel also has M Vidyasagar, another scientist with IIT-Hyderabad, and Lt. Gen Madhuri Kanitkar, Deputy Chief (Medical) of Integrated Defence Staff, as members.

(With Agency inputs)

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