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ndia could witness a third wave of covid infections as early as this month. So says a predictive model developed for the pandemic by Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) boffins. But it is likely that we are already in the grip of another coronaviral surge. For the first time in three months, week-on-week cases logged an increase for the seven days to 1 August, by the Centre’s count. Moreover, our rolling weekly average of daily cases, which offers a curve with day-to-day readings smoothened out for trend-picking, crossed 40,000 on Saturday. According to the model, which foresaw the rapid ebbing of our second wave that peaked at over 400,000 infections on 7 May, we are poised for a less voluminous wave this time. Academic researchers led by Manindra Agrawal of IIT Kanpur and Mathukumalli Vidyasagar of IIT Hyderabad have projected a high point this October at about 100,000 cases per day in the best-case scenario and 150,000 in the worst case. At first glance, this news should be greeted with some sense of relief. The worst, it suggests, is finally behind us. Perhaps we need not fear that our healthcare system will get overwhelmed again, as it did so painfully not very long ago. At least lives will not be lost to a shortage of oxygen, we may be inclined to think; we have learnt and will do a lot better. Expectations of a less severe wave, however, must not weaken our resolve to moderate it. As we have been forewarned, we have no excuse not to be fore-armed. Our collective response can make a big difference.

Covid models are constructs of probability that always have some scope for error, often caused by a single input variable veering towards an improbable extreme. Dodgy data can impair accuracy too. But even if we face nothing worse than the IIT-modelled worst case, concentrations of contagion in some spots could yet cause misery. Recall that hospitals in some cities had run out of covid beds by the time our official record of daily infections shot past 150,000 in the second week of April. While more beds and oxygen have clearly been arranged since then, capacity exhaustion cannot be ruled out. This risk needs to be minimized as top priority. At a broader level, vaccinations need to roll out more effectively. With 473 million doses given, only about 10% of our population is fully vaccinated. July’s average of 4.3 million doses daily needs to double just for India to meet the asking rate for adult coverage by year-end. But now we may need to focus on third-wave flare-ups through a special drive supplied with extra doses of vaccine and calibrated specifically for the task. We must also track variants closely. The last wave was Delta-driven, which we found out only later. This time, we must have genome surveys done with alacrity and appropriately-picked samples to alert us of any viral twists as we go along.

Administrative preparedness is one thing, mass behaviour is another. The relaxation of social precautions observed at the start of this year is in evidence again. Difficult as it sounds, we must be ready to withdraw into bio-bubbles as we approach our festive season. On wearing masks and staying apart, we should highlight their rationale beyond self-protection. For our collective sake, being vaxxed should not be a pretext to break covid norms. The perils of this pandemic need to persist in public consciousness till it’s actually over. Much could depend on how well we sustain an unspoken social compact not to get too close or let masks drop. Safety signalling alone could save lives.

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