A health worker delivers a dose of Covid-19 vaccine to a beneficiary at a vaccination center on June 6, 2021 in New Delhi, India.
Sanchit Khanna | Hindustan times | Getty Images
India has reported more than 30 million Covid-19 cases since the pandemic started last year.
Government data showed that 50,848 infections were recorded over a 24-hour period on Wednesday, bringing the total number of reported cases to 30.02 million. The reported daily death toll was 1,358.
The US is the only country in the world that has reported more cases than India.
The South Asian nation suffered a devastating second wave as reported coronavirus cases soared between February and early May. As a result, the hospitals were overwhelmed and medical supplies such as oxygen and drugs were scarce.
A highly contagious variant of the coronavirus – known as the delta variant – was first reported in India and is allegedly partly responsible for the rapid increase in cases there.
Since then, it has spread rapidly around the world and can be found in more than 80 countries. The World Health Organization said Delta would become the dominant variant of the disease worldwide.
We do not consider this reopening strategy to be prudent and could lead to a renewed increase in infections and a renewed tightening of restrictions in the future.
Last year, India’s central government imposed a month-long nationwide lockdown to slow the outbreak that left millions of people unemployed. This time around, state governments imposed more local restrictions to contain the spread of the virus.
Some economists, including Societe Generale’s Kunal Kundu, say multiple waves of job losses, income losses, the unprecedented health crisis and related spending are likely to leave “deep scars” on Indian consumers.
The second wave also hit rural India, which is likely to have had an impact on rural demand despite a normal monsoon, Kundu said in a note this week.
Preparation for a third wave
Government officials, epidemiologists and other health experts say a third wave is inevitable, and some predict it could hit India by October.
In a Reuters survey of 40 health specialists, doctors, scientists, virologists, epidemiologists and professors from around the world, it is agreed that the third wave will be better controlled than the current wave.
While experts say vaccinations are the way to go for India, many warn against lifting restrictions too soon.
To date, less than 5% of India’s total population has received two doses of vaccine that must be considered fully vaccinated – the introduction of vaccination has faced challenges this year, including supply bottlenecks.
Statistics from the online scientific publication Our World in Data show that around 16% of the population in India have received at least one dose of vaccine.
The country has set itself the ambitious goal of producing more than 2 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccine by December – in theory, that’s enough to vaccinate most of its population. However, some public health experts say that vaccination goal alone will not help immunize everyone.
Vaccination rates are well below what is considered safe in the more populous and economically more important states to ease social distancing measures significantly.
They say the country in rural India needs to build the necessary infrastructure to run vaccination campaigns and convince people to get their vaccinations as many, especially in rural areas, still hesitate.
The central government has launched a campaign to vaccinate all adults for free, and India reportedly saw a record 7.5 million doses on Monday.
Reopening too early is “not prudent”
The decline in Covid-19 cases in recent weeks has led states to relax restrictions, including the planned resumption of classroom teaching for schools and colleges. Some watchers say the move may backfire.
“Vaccination rates are well below what is considered safe in the more populous and economically important states to significantly ease social distancing measures,” said Priyanka Kishore, head of India and Southeast Asia economics at Oxford Economics, in a statement on Wednesday.
It noted that the partial restrictions are likely to remain in place for the coming months, but the reopening has started faster than expected.
“We think this reopening strategy is not prudent and could lead to a renewed increase in infections and further tightening of restrictions in the future,” said Kishore. She explained that states with low vaccination rates could be forced to tighten measures to combat new coronavirus outbreaks, which could have spillover effects that could force other states to tighten restrictions again.
Oxford Economics remains cautious on the outlook and maintains its growth forecast for India for 2021 at 9.1%.