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Scientists from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) have warned that states witnessing a spike in cases should prepare for the pandemic’s third wave and take steps to limit the virus’s spread.

The advisory comes as India reported the highest daily rise in covid cases in two months on Thursday. Kerala accounted for nearly 70% of the 47,092 new infections, but other states such as Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra have also seen a rise in infections in the past weeks.

Dr Samiran Panda, head of epidemiology and infectious diseases at ICMR, warned that there is a high probability of the third wave after the festive season that will culminate with Diwali in November.

“There is still a high proportion of the population that is uninfected. The virus will behave differently in different states, and the third wave will depend on how many people have got immunity due to natural infection or vaccination and how conducive the environment is for the virus’s spread," Panda said.

The Union ministry of science and technology’s SUTRA mathematical model, which is used to track the progression of the pandemic in India, has been forecasting the third wave in September because of the rise in mutant variants, large population of unvaccinated people and rising caseload.

The latest projections show covid cases may rise to as many as 100,000 a day in the coming months as mutant coronavirus strains spread.

The highly transmissible epsilon variant that was first identified in California in 2020 has been recently detected in Pakistan. Scientists said that the epsilon strain is resistant to all vaccines.

“Projections done two months ago assumed that a new mutant will arrive by August. That has not happened. It also assumed that R0 will go up to 4 in August. It is close to 5 at present," said Manindra Agrawal, a professor at IIT Kanpur, who is working on the SUTRA model. The R number is a way of rating a disease’s ability to spread.

Meanwhile, the central government is maintaining that the second wave hasn’t ended. “We have not seen the conclusion of the second surge. The overall numbers have decreased, but the cases are still high in several parts of the country," said Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan.

“There is a progressive decrease in districts reporting high cases. Districts with greater than 100 cases declined from 279 in the week ended 1 June to 42 in the week ended 30 August," Bhushan said.

The country’s active caseload is 389,583. The daily positivity rate, or the percentage of people who test positive for the virus, is at 2.8%, health ministry data showed.

“Seropositivity in the general population is close to 60%. However, there is a recent spike in cases. Therefore, the possibility of the third wave cannot be ruled out, but it is likely to be less severe," said Dr Manoj Goel, director, pulmonology, Fortis Memorial Research Institute.

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