On Sunday, Delhi reported 517 new coronavirus cases, up nearly four times since 131 at the start of this month. In Haryana, the number has quadrupled through Sunday, although the number is lower than in Delhi. For the first time since the third week of January, active cases in the country have started to rise again. The quantum of the upside is still very small, but the uptrend has been going on for four days now.
Just when the pandemic appeared to be winding down in India, rising cases in Delhi and Haryana has started to sound the alarm the bells again. The silver lining, for now, is the fact that the increase in cases has been limited in these two states, essentially Delhi and its environs, and has not been reported in other parts of the country.
Unlike other major cities such as Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai or Pune where the number of daily new cases fell to lower double digits, Delhi continued to report significantly higher number of cases, over 100 per day on average. In recent days, however, there is a clear increase. On Tuesday, Delhi detected more than 200 new cases for the first time in a month. Cases continued to rise daily thereafter, and on Saturday 461 cases were detected, the highest in six weeks. Likewise, Haryana’s tally of 202 cases on Saturday was the highest in five weeks. These two states together contributed to more than half of the total number of cases in India on Saturday.
The reasons for the surge in numbers in Delhi and Haryana are not definitively clear at this time, but the most plausible explanation is that it is caused by the removal of the mask mandate and the removal of all restrictions. These movements are not unique to Delhi or Haryana, and have been taken out across the country, but Anurag Agrawal, former director of the Delhi-based Institute of Genetics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), noted that the trends are becoming first evident in large urban centres. centers. Agrawal said the current rise seen in Delhi is in line with what one would expect if people stopped wearing masks and started interacting more freely. Schools and offices have reopened, travel has returned to normal, and most businesses have started operating at full capacity. It’s no surprise to see cases rise amid increased interactions with reduced restrictions.
This would suggest that large major cities could also see an increase in cases in the near future, although no cities are showing such signs yet.
Low numbers elsewhere
The surge in Delhi is not fueled by the emergence of a new variant of the virus and does not appear to be overly concerning at this time. The numbers are not expected to be very high as there is no significant change in the two factors that drive a flare – the emergence of a rapidly transmitting variant and the availability of a large pelvis in a susceptible population. As such, the uptick will likely be temporary and manageable.
While nationally active cases have shown an increase in recent days, the detection of new cases has remained more or less at the same level. The 1,150 new cases detected on Saturday were indeed significantly higher than the 949 and 975 cases of the previous two days, but it is too early to suggest a trend. The seven-day moving average of new cases, which masks daily fluctuations and shows a more consistent trend, continues to decline.
More than 10 states and union territories are currently reporting single-digit cases, many of which have no cases.
The number of national cases remains at the lowest level in the past two years. Positivity rates are steadily dropping.
The fears of the fourth wave
The surge in cases in Delhi and Haryana would rekindle fears of the start of a fourth wave in the country. However, it is risky to predict anything about a new wave of infections. The evolution of the virus is a completely random and unpredictable event. And right now, it looks like a new wave of infections in India would only be driven by the emergence of a new variant. This is mainly due to the fact that most of the Indian population has already been infected with the Omicron variant and the population is expected to have attained a reasonable degree of immunity against this variant. Reinfection with the same variant is not unheard of, but it is also not common.
It is not yet known how long the immunity acquired by a previous infection is effective. The current agreement is that it would last at least six to nine months. This is also the reason for the nine-month interval in the administration of booster doses of the vaccine. This would mean that most people infected with the Omicron variant in the third wave would likely have effective immunity for a few more months. So worries about the start of the fourth wave may not have much basis at this time. Unless, of course, a dangerous new variant is found floating around in the population.