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Covid spreading faster than it was in second national wave: Data

By, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Jan 03, 2022 07:18 AM IST

In the week ended January 2, there were 18,290 new infections of Covid-19 reported everyday on average across India, the highest the seven-day average has touched since October 12, the dashboard showed.

New infections of Covid-19 across India are rising faster than they did even during the brutal second wave in April-May last year, data analysed by HT showed, indicating that the latest surge fuelled by the Omicron variant may follow the trend seen across the world, where it has outpaced all previous waves.

People flouting social distancing norms at the entrance of Nehru Zoological park, amid the spike in Covid-19 cases, in Hyderabad on Sunday. (ANI)
People flouting social distancing norms at the entrance of Nehru Zoological park, amid the spike in Covid-19 cases, in Hyderabad on Sunday. (ANI)

India on Sunday reported 33,647 new Covid-19 infections, the highest in a single day since September 17, or in 107 days, according to HT’s Covid dashboard, as the country’s latest surge in cases continued to push daily case numbers up to levels not seen since the second wave was brought under control in the first half of 2021.

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To be sure, experts said that data from the world over has shown that despite the rapid rise in the case rate due to Omicron, hospitalisation rates and reports of severe infections have consistently remained low.

In the week ended January 2, there were 18,290 new infections of Covid-19 reported everyday on average across India, the highest the seven-day average has touched since October 12, the dashboard showed.

While in absolute numbers, this is the worst the case rate in the past two-and-a-half months, the numbers get more alarming if we look at the rate it is increasing. The week before last (the seven days leading to December 25), the national seven-day average of daily cases was 6,641. It means that in just a week, the rate of new infections have increased by 175%. This is the largest weekly growth seen in the country since April 9, 2020, surpassing even the peak growth rate seen during the second wave, when the number peaked at 75%.

To be sure, an important distinction between the case trajectory in April 2020 and the trajectory today is the sheer volume of cases. In April 2020, when the pandemic was just starting off in India, there were only around 500 new cases everyday, against the current new infection rate of over 18,000 new cases.

Another important distinction is the tremendous pace of growth. Just five days ago, the weekly growth rate of average daily cases was in the negative, meaning the wave was contracting compared to preceding week. So it took just five days from a contracting case rate to one that has surpassed the pace of growth seen even during the second wave, the HT analysis showed.

It also means that if the current weekly growth rate persists, the case curve may double to 36,000 daily cases within seven days.

The national average, of course, hides a much wider variation across the country, particularly the numbers from major metropolitan areas, where the week-on-week growth rate is much higher. In Delhi, which reported 3,194 new cases on Sunday, taking the seven-day average to 1,538, the latter has grown a whopping 832% from the week before. Similarly, in Mumbai, 8,063 new cases on Sunday took the average daily cases to 3,994, a rise of 624% from the preceding seven-day period.

The trend in India mimics what has been witnessed throughout the world so far – as the highly transmissible Omicron variant has gripped a country, the daily case rate (the seven-day average of new infections) has grown faster than previous waves, including the fast-rising Delta waves.

This was confirmed by the World Health Organization (WHO), which said on December 19 that there was “consistent evidence” that Omicron is spreading faster than Delta. “It is also more likely people vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19 could be infected or reinfected,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had said.

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To be sure, despite the rapid rise in cases, there has been a significant silver lining as hospitalisation rates and reports of severe infections have consistently remained low through the Omicron waves across countries.

The vaccination coverage during the Delta wave, and that proportion today may end up being a major factor that influences how many people end up with severe cases of Covid-19, experts stressed.

“The Covid world pre-Delta and during the Delta wave was very different from the post-Delta wave. Very small fraction of the population in any country was vaccinated. But now, vaccine coverage has increased and Delta also caused a lot of infections. In India, 67.6% population was antibody positive by July 2021. Now, vaccine-induced as well as hybrid (both infection and vaccination) immunity protects much better from severe disease. Further, the Omicron variant appears to cause milder disease. Altogether, the hospitalisation rates are down everywhere even in face of a more transmissible virus,” Dr Shahid Jameel, noted virologist and the former head of India’s virus genome sequencing group, told HT.

Omicron infections may end up being milder, which may not see hospitals stressed as badly as they were in the second wave, another expert said.

The initial data on infections indicate that the symptoms of Omicron are relatively minor compared with previous variants, and the requirement of hospitalisation is also lower, according to Dr KK Talwar, former head of the Medical Council of India. “In other countries, the need for hospitalisation is less compared to other variants,” he said. “We will have to study the trends here to say anything for sure,” he cautioned.

However, the message that Omicron causes minor disease may end up making people take infections lightly and not take ample precautions, Dr Talwar pointed out. “This message ... may encourage a sense of laxity among people, and they will not take the necessary precautions that need to be taken to prevent infection.”

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Jamie Mullick works as a chief content producer at Hindustan Times. He uses data and graphics to tell his stories.

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