India is beginning to reopen after a second wave of Covid-19 infections devastated the country in April and May. But now experts warn that a third wave could strike in the next few months, reports BBConline.
Courts have questioned state governments over their preparedness, some experts have warned that a third wave could hit within 12-16 weeks, and others are worried that new variants, including the much-talked about Delta plus, could weaken existing vaccines.
Delta plus is related to the Delta, an existing variant of concern first identified in India last year that was responsible for the deadly second wave.
But how realistic are these fears? Subsequent waves are expected, but their severity and spread depend on a number of factors.
The number of average daily cases in India has fallen to just over 50,000 in recent days, down from the peaks of 4,00,000 in May. The drop in numbers has largely been attributed to strict lockdowns by states.
Crowding in markets, election rallies and religious festivals was blamed for the second wave. Bad policy decisions, poor surveillance and ignoring early warnings were some of the other reasons. If the same mistakes are repeated, experts say, that could hasten the third wave.
Dr Chandrakant Lahariya, a public policy and health systems expert, says India is once again at a delicate phase and how people behave will largely determine the fate of the next wave.
He says it’s important that states reopen the economy gradually. ‘If we rush into reopening and people don’t follow Covid safety protocols, we only help the virus spread faster.’
He advises that safety protocols need to be implemented at ‘a localised level’ - if specific markets and businesses don’t follow rules, they should be penalised.
The Delta variant largely drove the second wave. Experts believe that more such variants could appear in future if the virus is allowed to run through the still susceptible population.
The Indian government has announced that a new variant, named Delta plus, is a ‘variant of concern’. But there is not enough data at the moment to say that it could cause a third wave. However experts say the scenario ‘could change within weeks’.
Epidemiologist Dr Lalit Kant says the threat of new variants derailing progress will exist as long as the virus keeps spreading. ‘We need to further scale up our sequencing efforts to identify dangerous variants early and apply containment measures,’ he adds.
India had sequenced 30,000 samples until June, but experts believe more needs to be done. Dr A Fathahudeen, who has treated thousands of Covid patients, says current vaccines appear to work on known variants — but there is no guarantee that they will work on new variants. There have also been instances of people becoming ill despite having been vaccinated — especially after getting the first dose.
Meanwhile, the pandemic has killed at least 38,93,974 people since the virus first emerged in December 2019, according to an AFP compilation of official data.
The United States is the worst-affected country with 6,02,837 deaths, followed by Brazil with 5,07,109, India with 3,91,981 Mexico with 2,31,847 and Peru with 1,91,073.
The figures are based on reports by health authorities in each country, but do not take into account upward revisions carried out later by statistical bodies.
The WHO says up to three times more people have died directly or indirectly due to the pandemic than official figures suggest.
US health authorities are to update guidance for using mRNA vaccines like the Pfizer and Moderna jabs after finding a likely link to rare cases of heart inflammation in adolescents and young adults, reports AFP.
Brazil set a new record for infections with 1,15,228 new cases within 24 hours, confirming the arrival of a third wave in the country. It already has the second worst death toll in the world, with 2,392 people dying there on Wednesday alone.
Reaching highs last hit in January, Russia reports more than 20,000 new infections and 568 deaths as the country battles a surging outbreak of the Delta variant worsened by a sluggish jab drive.
An illegal business in fake vaccination certificates is also booming in Russia, according to an AFP report, with many wary of getting its local Sputnik V jab.
Hundreds of pro-democracy protesters rally in Bangkok to call for the government to go, defying warnings from authorities about the kingdom’s soaring infections.
The pandemic is pushing more people into drug use, while illicit cultivation could also get a boost, the UN says, warning the fallout is likely to be felt ‘for years to come’.
A British man has tested positive for Covid for 10 months in a row in what is thought to be the longest recorded case of continuous infection. Dave Smith, 72, says he made plans for his funeral after being hospitalised seven times.
A monument to essential workers who risked their lives during the pandemic will be unveiled in New York in September.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from South Asia