Covid-19 case trajectory shows second wave is ebbing
- In the past week, there have been 328,947 new infections every day across the country on average; a week ago, this number was 391,819, the highest ever recorded and what appeared to be the peak of the second wave.
While the second wave of the Covid-19 outbreak continued to burden India’s health care system, with the total number of confirmed infections in the country closing in on 25 million on Sunday, the trajectory of new infections for the entire country appeared to show signs of receding from a peak over the past week, according to data.
For the first time since the start of the second wave, the number of active cases in the country began inching down – a crucial development as the onslaught of the second wave was marked by a soaring number of active cases, which resulted in shortages of vital supplies such as medical oxygen, life-saving drugs, hospital beds and ambulance services.
A total of 281,911 new cases were reported on Sunday, the lowest in 27 days, taking the total number of infections in the country since the start of the outbreak to 24,964,718, according to HT’s Covid-19 dashboard.
In the past week, there have been 328,947 new infections every day across the country on average; a week ago, this number was 391,819, the highest ever recorded and what appeared to be the peak of the second wave. This means that the rate of new infections reduced by 16% in the past seven days – the first time such a significant contraction of the outbreak has been reported in the country since February. At its peak, the week-on-week change in seven-day average of new infections was rising at more than 70% for the week ending April 11.
The seven-day average of new cases, which denotes the country’s Covid-19 case curve, has now fallen for seven straight days for the first time since early February, underlining what appeared to be a clear reversal of trend and not just a few days of dropping cases. And this trend has taken place without daily tests going down – the seven-day average of samples tested has gone up 3.6% from last Sunday.
These findings were echoed in the epidemiological estimates by the University of Michigan’s Centre for Precision Health Data Science, which showed that India’s overall effective reproduction number (Rt) has dropped to 0.90. An Rt of more than 1 means an outbreak is expanding in a region, while that below 1 denotes a contraction.
Delhi has seen the largest drop in the rate of new infections in the past week – the seven-day average of daily cases dropped 45% in the last week, from 18,374 to 10,043. In other words, cases in Delhi dropped more than three times the national average.
In Uttar Pradesh, the seven-day average of new cases went down 39% in the last week, while this number dropped 36% in Chhattisgarh and Bihar, and 32% in Telangana. These were followed by Jharkhand (30% drop in average daily cases), Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra (27% and 25% contraction).
On May 12, HT reported that at least six regions in the country – Delhi, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana and Uttar Pradesh – had started reporting a steady drop in infections in the past few weeks, with another three – Bihar, Gujarat and Jharkhand – exhibiting early signs of a plateau.
This trend, however, is not uniform across the country. While new infections are dropping in a majority of the country, a handful of regions, particularly in the country’s south, east and northeast, continue to defy the larger trend. The seven-day average of cases is still increasing through northeast the most – in Tripura, the number has risen the most in the country (65%), followed by 58% in Meghalaya and 37% in Manipur.
States that held elections over the last two months are among the regions that are outliers. Tamil Nadu, for instance, is the state with the fastest rising outbreaks among India’s most populous regions – the seven-day average of new infections went up 26% in the past month (from 24735 new cases a day a week ago to 31137 for the week ending this Sunday). In Puducherry, the rate of new cases has gone up 24%, while it has gone up 9% in Assam and 8% in West Bengal in the past week. Kerala is the only state with recent elections where the outbreak has shrunk – though it has done so marginally, with a 3% drop in new infections.
An analysis by HT on May 3 showed that in the four states and one Union territory that went to the polls, Covid-19 cases started rising much later than the rest of the country, but a steeper curve in these regions pushed them ahead in terms of new cases per capita.
The number of active cases, meanwhile, has also starting decreasing – albeit slowly. Till last Sunday (May 9), there were a total of 3,750,895 active cases in the country, the highest this number has ever touched. However, since then, with cases dropping and recoveries picking up pace, the number of active cases has also started slowly inching down. As of Sunday night, the number of active cases in the country dropped to 3,522,840. On Sunday, active cases reduced by over 100,000, according to HT’s Covid-19 dashboard.
Tracking the number of active cases – those still under treatment – in any region is crucial because these have a direct bearing on the pressure that the health care system is facing. Currently, there are still more than 3.5 times as many active cases in the country than there were during the peak of the first wave of the outbreak. This has caused massive shortages of supplies vital for the fight against the disease.
While regions such as Delhi and Maharashtra appear to have seen off the worst of these shortages (with active cases dropping recently), other regions such as Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam, Karnataka and the northeast states (where cases are still rising) now face the danger of such shortages in the near future.
Experts said that while it is a good sign that cases are dropping across the country, they said it was too early to say they will remain down. “Some of the states that are yet to peak right now are among the most populous regions in the country. Add to that, despite our strides in testing infrastructure, we still don’t have a very clear idea of what is happening in rural parts of the country... In a situation like this, if cases are rising there, or dropping, we still don’t have a clear picture. A clear picture can only be established when we have true data, both in terms of cases and deaths, from these regions,” said Dr Lalit Kant, former head of epidemiology at the Indian Council of Medical Research.