COVID-19 In India: The Elusive Peak Syndrome!

In the last one- or two-months India has been crossing milestone after milestone in terms of daily spikes of new cases: from over 50 thousand to over 90 thousand new cases per day. Since the spikes had crossed fifty thousand a day the question has never stopped coming to most of the minds of the country: has India reached the peak in the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic? From the experience of most other countries of the world we tend to see a trend that in about three months the acceleration in new infections start declining slowly effecting a flattening of the curve, and this flattening stays for about two months or more after which some countries begin to experience a second wave of the pandemic. In India, the pandemic has been raging for about 8 months now with no definite peak reached or any lasting flattening of the curve. Therefore, from this angle India emerges as the only country of the world to have experienced an unending and uneven saga of fluctuations.


There is one more angle for the national scenario. India has seen a record new daily spike of over 98,000 cases a little over a week back. For the next few days, the spikes persisted in the nineties, but in the meanwhile daily recoveries started overtaking the new infections. After that the daily spikes had again come back to the eighties, and the margin between new cases and recoveries started fluctuating too. For the last twenty-four-hour period we still have a positive margin with recoveries at 93,420 and new cases at 85,362. As we have said earlier in these pages, this is indeed a heartening sign, and if daily spikes continue to remain under 90 thousand for at least a month, we can say confidently that the daily spike of new cases at over 98 thousand was indeed the peak for India.


Some say that in the examples of Delhi and Mumbai we have had two peaks so far. This is only partially true. Yes, in both the cities/regions the first surge somewhat slowed down with a mildly declining curve. However, the supposed ‘peak’ hardly lasted a month as against the usual behavior trajectory of 2/3 months, and this proves again that the declining trends are only due to haphazard fluctuations. In the case of Delhi, after the first surge daily new cases had come down to a thousand or less which, within a month, started rising again and crossing the 4,000 mark. In the last few days, the daily spikes have been coming down to less than 4 thousand, and people are saying the second peak is reached. But, it’s too early to say that, because the fluctuations may continue all over again in the coming days. In Mumbai we had seen a minor surge after the highly accelerating stage, and therefore, at least in the case of Mumbai we may have achieved a peak which, of course, must be observed for one more month.


There are three root causes, in my view, for the unending and unusual fluctuation observed in India: (1) compromises made in the national lockdown implementation since the month of May 2020; (2) India having a vast population and a very high population density which literally means, even if only 1% of the Indian population gets infected with the novel Coronavirus we’d have total cases over 10 million; and (3) India having numerous states which are more or less separate administrative units with their unique culture and lifestyles, and a number of Indian states are bigger in area (forget the population) than quite a few European and other nations of the world. Thanks to these basic reasons the COVID-19 spread trajectory has to be different in the Indian example.


Whatever be the speculations about the COVID-19 trajectory, as long as daily recoveries keep on beating the daily new cases and as long as the aggressive testing (about 1.5 million a day now) and containment strategy continue with gusto, a collective sigh of relief would indeed be worth indulging in. However, the citizens must continue too with restrained behavior in public places adhering strictly to the new normal lifestyle, particularly in the ongoing festive season. Such a government-citizen combination would at least check the trend of haphazard and never-ending fluctuations. Going back to national lockdowns would be unrealistic as these are only strategies, not solutions. This is notwithstanding what we are hearing now about lockdowns being considered again in some European countries that are experiencing a severe second wave.



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