The record follows reports of a marginal dip in new cases over the preceding days. This reduction was short-lived, lasting only two days before new infections began to rise once more — now threatening an increase towards more than 100,000 cases a day.
While less than two weeks ago recovery figures surpassed that of daily new cases — indicating the potential for the pandemic to be, at the very least, hitting a plateau in the country — this has not lasted. The latest increase once again places daily figures far in excess of daily recoveries. This results in a rapid increase of active cases within the country.
Recovery figures across many Indian cities have been announced as being high, giving hope that many areas will be pushing towards herd immunity. According to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Delhi has a recovery rate of ninety percent followed by Tamil Nadu with 85 percent. Bihar came in third with a recovery rate of 83.80 percent, followed by the union territory of Daman and Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli (82.60 percent), Haryana (82.10 percent), Gujarat (80.20 percent).
It is hoped by many that herd immunity – in which a majority of the population have achieved immunity either through infection, or, preferably, through vaccination – will halt the spread of the COVID-19. As Health Issues India previously reported, more of the population may now possess antibodies than previously assumed. Dr A. Velumani, the chairman, managing Director and chief executive officer of Thyrocare Technologies, said that an analysis of 270,000 antibody tests conducted by his company indicated the level of exposure to COVID-19 among the population is 26 percent. This, he said, “is a much higher percentage than we had expected. The presence of antibodies is uniform across all age groups, including children.”
However, given the ever increasing daily figures, any hopes that population immunity levels are at a point where the infection rates begin to slow down are far from being realised. Given India’s 1.3 billion-plus population — and despite a relatively low mortality rate compared to other countries — opting to strive for herd immunity without a vaccine will cause staggering numbers of deaths throughout the nation.
It cannot be stressed enough that India’s relatively low death toll, as well as high recovery rate, are not calls for complacency. As noted by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF)
“While these trends display a more optimistic scenario than many predicted, India must remain vigilant. The high burden of communicable diseases and malnutrition, and the relatively high child and maternal mortality rate – all of which will be amplified and exacerbated by COVID-19—coupled with an inadequate health system in India, pose a serious threat to the future of the country, which may lead to long-lasting shocks to the overall health of its people.”
Indeed it is being discussed by many scientists that immunity to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 may not be long-lasting, stressing the fact that the recovery rate may not be an indication that India has overcome the disease. Dr Balram Bhargava, Director-General of the Indian Council of Medical research (ICMR,) noted in a recent press conference that “this is a new disease, only [seven months] old; we do not know how long…immunity will persist. For respiratory viruses, for instance in flu, vaccination is given every year, as the immunity does not last beyond a year. There are several examples across the world.”
Other factors such as the potential for repeat infections open up the possibility that COVID-19 is simply here to stay, and may become a seasonal issue. The recent news reports of an individual in Hong Kong who was the first to have been documented as having recovered from the virus, then infected a second time by another strain, highlight this issue.
In much the same way as there are many strains of the flu circulating at a given time, COVID-19 has now mutated so that multiple strains have been documented. Immunity to one strain following infection and recovery — or even vaccination — does not necessitate immunity to all other strains. As such it is entirely possible that countries that are now over the worst of the pandemic may see the disease reimported.
India’s efforts against COVID-19, however, are being reinforced, for multiple days now the country has conducted more than a million tests per day. Such scaling up of testing could explain the increased daily caseload to a degree, though as the disease has permeated India’s cities and shifted to many rural locations this cannot explain the increase in its totality, as it has undoubtedly become more prolific as it affects more of the country.
There is hope in India’s high recovery rates. However, COVID-19’s death toll is now in excess of 1,000 a day in India. With a safe vaccine still yet to be available, India – and indeed countries across the world – must do more to brace their populations for the potential for an ever-growing death toll.