Covid-19 infections in India may keep rising till early October: ICMR study3 min read . Updated: 14 Jun 2020, 11:34 PM IST
The two-month nationwide lockdown slowed covid’s spread, but the number of infections may continue rising until early October, finds ICMR study
India could face challenging days ahead as a study by the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said that the country’s coronavirus count may keep rising until early October, two-and-a-half months later than it had earlier predicted.
The two-month-long nationwide lockdown has shifted the peak of covid-19 epidemic in India by 34-76 days from the earlier estimate of mid-July, the study by ICMR, along with the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, and the National Covid-19 Taskforce–Operations Research Group and other international institutes, said.
While the lockdown has slowed the spread of the pandemic, the country is now seeing a renewed surge in infections in Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai as India emerges from the lockdown and restarts its stalled economy.
The ICMR model found that the number of covid cases could have been fewer by 69% to 97% during the lockdown period, depending on the compliance pattern of the public to the restrictions. The cumulative number of cases will, however, remain unaffected by the compliance pattern in the long term, it said.
The study, which estimated the annual mortality rate from covid-19 in India at 1.6 deaths per thousand, said the current dedicated resources in terms of isolation beds, ICU beds and ventilators are only adequate to meet its needs till the third week of September.
“In the scenario of intensified public health measures with 60% effectiveness after lockdown, the demand can be met till the first week of November," the study found.
As the lockdown is inevitably unwound, a surge in infections is inevitable, but what is worrying health experts is that the infrastructure in places such as Delhi and Mumbai is already being overwhelmed by the rising caseload. While Maharashtra is reeling from shortages of beds, doctors and nurses to deal with covid patients, the national capital will need 80,000 beds by the end of July, according to the state’s own estimate.
While the total number of cases in Delhi is likely to rise to 100,000 by June end, the government is preparing to meet a demand for 15,000 hospital beds. Union home minister Amit Shah on Sunday convened a meeting with the Delhi government amid allegations that hospitals are denying tests and admissions. Shah also said in view of shortage of beds, the Centre will provide 500 railway coaches as temporary isolation beds. A similar situation is playing out in Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
Among the worst hit states, Delhi has the least number of covid-19 beds—9,802. Among other states, Maharashtra has 17,847 beds, Tamil Nadu 17,500, Gujarat 23,000 and Rajasthan 43,704.
With migrant labourers returning to their villages, experts are expecting a surge of cases from rural areas as well.
“Data from the National Health Profile 2019 reflects that government hospitals will run out of beds in the rural parts if 0.03% of the rural population is infected by coronavirus. It even shows that out of 26,000 hospitals, around 21,000 are in rural areas and the remaining in urban areas," said Dr Suresh Sharma, head, Population Research Center, Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi University.
The Centre and states are trying to augment the health infrastructure for covid with cases surging every day.
“Public healthcare has three essential components—infrastructure both physical and equipment, human resource, including doctors, paramedics and technicians, and third and the most important is how do you make use of the first two to deliver quality healthcare services," said Rohit Kumar Singh, additional chief secretary (medical and health), Rajasthan. “For a large state like Rajasthan, creating robust infrastructure across the state is critical. We are using the covid crisis as an opportunity to augment this," he said.
Amid the worsening crisis, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold consultations with chief ministers to evolve a strategy to navigate the next phase of the pandemic. The meeting is slated to be done in two rounds on 16 June and the remaining on 17 June.
Gyan Verma and Anuja contributed to this story.