Second Covid-19 wave lingering, or early signs of 3rd?
India faced a severe second wave of Covid-19 infections starting February. The seven-day average of daily new infections rose 36 times between February 11 and May 9, which is when the second wave peaked. Daily new cases have since fallen sharply, but the latest statistics underline the need for caution. This is all the more important given the anecdotal accounts of Covid-inappropriate behaviour from many places, especially tourist destinations. Here are four charts that explain this.
1. New infections are not rising, but they also are not falling fast enough
The 7-day averages of daily and active Covid-19 cases continue their downward trend after having peaked on May 9, 2021. However, two months since the second wave's peak, the infection’s trajectory in India has seen a worrying development. There has been a slowdown in the downward trend of cases and a slight increase in positivity rate. Worse still, daily new cases have been increasing over the past few days, although it is premature to label this the beginning of the next wave without a clear increase in 7-day averages.
On June 24, the 7-day-average of daily and active cases in India was 53,123 and 683,544 respectively. Two weeks later, on July 7, these numbers were 42,547 and 486,415, the lowest since the peak of the second wave. This shows that we are still on the downward path of the second wave. To be sure, the latest numbers are much higher than the lowest number of daily new cases (10,988) and total active cases (138,837) seen after the peak of the first wave.
What is worrying about the current situation is that the nature of the infection's curve changed a month ago. The 7-day average of new cases was declining at the rate of 6.7% per day on June 2. New cases are declining at a much slower rate now. The daily fall in 7-day average of new cases was 0.96% on July 7. The rate of decline of active cases has similarly decreased from 5.23% on June 9 to 1.8% on July 7.
2. Rise in positivity rate is a cause for concern
While new cases continue to fall, the positivity rate has already reversed its falling trajectory. The seven-day average of daily positivity rates hit a high of 22.76% on May 9. It then declines and reached a low of 2.19% on July 2. This number has increased slightly in the past week. On July 7, the 7-day average of daily positivity rate was 2.27%. While this increase is small and recent, this definitely raises a red flag.
3. The situation at the state level
The all-India numbers hide the divergence across states. The 7-day average of new cases has been rising in six small north-eastern states and Kerala. Positivity rates have risen in 11 states and UTs over the last week. There are 4 states, where the 7-day average of positivity rate was higher than 10% on July 7, and another four where it was 5%-10% . A rise in positivity rates means the number of cases will continue to rise.
4. Districts in other states too affected
Out of 707 districts for which data is compiled by How India Lives (Delhi’s districts are merged as one), the 7-day average of cases has increased in 63 districts between June 20 and July 6; 36 of them are from the eight north-eastern states, and 18 from Kerala, Maharashtra, and Odisha. But cases have increased in a few districts even in other states in the past two weeks.
The lack of publicly available daily district-wise positivity rates that can be read together with the cases in those districts continues to be an important constraint in red-flagging vulnerable districts before it is too late.