Indian cities such as capital New Delhi and Mumbai could peak next week after rising rapidly, experts say, as the country reports the highest number of daily cases since late May.
The 247,417 new infections on Thursday were more than 30 times higher daily cases from a month ago, rising as the more transmissible Omicron variant replaced Delta across the country. Total infections reached 36.32 million, behind only the United States.
“Our modelling, and those of others, suggests that the big Indian cities should see their peaks in cases close to January 20, while the overall peak in India may be shifted a bit later, to early February,” Gautam Menon, professor of physics and biology at Ashoka University has said.
Mumbai recorded a high of 20,971 infections last Friday but cases have been coming down since. City officials said the rate of infection was also coming down, with nearly 80 percent of COVID-19 hospital beds vacant.
Delhi reported more than 27,500 infections on Wednesday, close to its all-time high, and its health minister told local media this week infections could start coming down in a few days.
The Central and state health officials say a majority of the infections in the ongoing third wave have been mild, with fewer hospitalisations and deaths than the previous surge in April and May that killed hundreds of thousands of people.
The health ministry has said common pain relievers like paracetamol should be enough for people with mild fever due to COVID-19. It has warned, though, against complacency as infections have now started rising in as many as 300 districts from fewer than 80 a week ago.
“The experience from other countries informs us that it is more practical to track/monitor hospitalisations rather than new cases,” said Rajib Dasgupta, head of the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.
“Non-pharmaceutical interventions – lockdowns, etc – are increasingly losing their relevance with rapid and inexorable community transmission.”
Many cities and states, including Delhi, have nevertheless imposed night curfews. The capital also locks down fully on weekends, and has closed private offices, schools and restaurants throughout the week.
The latest spike in infections in India comes ahead of elections in five states, including Uttar Pradesh, home to 220 million people, starting on February 10.
Political parties have been holding massive rallies with tens of thousands of people in attendance over the last few weeks.
Meanwhile, the Indian Council of Medical Research, the government’s apex scientific body, on Monday tweaked its mandatory testing guidelines to ease the strain on the testing infrastructure. Healthy, asymptomatic contacts of confirmed coronavirus patients no longer require mandatory testing.