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ICMR chief Balram Bhargava (Photo: ANI)
ICMR chief Balram Bhargava (Photo: ANI)

‘No model has forecast covid spread correctly’

  • Predictions are not in line with real-time data, says ICMR, as cases surge
  • Some govt models predicted a peak in July, and others said the pandemic will be over by May-June

NEW DELHI : None of the mathematical models has correctly predicted the course of the virus spread so far, and in such a scenario India should focus on the basics of epidemic prevention—test, track and treat, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) chief said.

Dr Balram Bhargava, director general, ICMR, said in an interview that modelling cannot incorporate all the factors responsible for the spread of the virus. “They might give an idea about best and worst possible scenarios for nations to prepare their health infrastructure," he said.

India on Sunday recorded more than 20,00 new covid-19 cases to take the total count to 546,771, with 16,459 fatalities. The daily surge in cases has proved all mathematical models wrong.

Some government models predicted a peak in July, and others said that the epidemic in India will be over by May-June. Some mathematical models have also predicted that the covid-19 curve has flattened in India, but the predictions are not in line with real-time data.

In any case, experts say, the next few months will be crucial. “Mathematical models always rely on some assumptions, in addition to available data. In case of a pandemic, there are several unknown factors. How this new virus will behave in a particular context is not fully understood," said Indu Bhushan, chief executive, National Health Authority and Ayushman Bharat-Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana.

Bhushan said policy interventions influence inherent assumptions which form the basis of these models.

“Further, during a pandemic, there are multiple interventions that happen parallelly, making the assessment of a single intervention almost impossible. Also, the conclusion from such mathematical modelling can create confusion and panic among citizens," she said. “We should rather focus on dynamic data-based decision-making, wherein the emphasis is on charting actions against real-time data."

Realizing the importance of testing, ICMR has ramped up its daily testing to more than 200,000. In the past 24 hours, 231,095 samples were tested, taking the total count to 8,227,802.

“Test, track and treat is the only way to prevent the spread of the infection and save lives. This has been the approach used by us till now. It is being strengthened further. All the relevant measures are being taken to save lives and prevent disease spread," Bhargava said.

“Being a novel virus, the challenges are ample in front of us. We are trying hard to understand the virus, its virulence, its immune response, its epidemiology," he said.

So far, in India, 320,651 covid-19 positive patients have made a recovery, taking the recovery rate to 58.56%. During the past 24 hours, 13,832 covid-19 patients have made a recovery, while 209,662 active cases are under active medical supervision, health ministry data showed.

“One thing is very clear—until a drug or vaccine is developed, good hygiene practices like social distancing, use of mask, hand washing, cough etiquettes are the way to move forward," Bhargava said.

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