Is India on the verge of a fourth Covid wave?

New Delhi, April 19 (IANS) Even as India has been seeing a significant rise in the number of Covid cases, speculations of a next wave of infections are rife. But health experts on Tuesday said that the surge is not unexpected and likely paves way for the fourth wave in the country but it is currently limited to certain states.
 
Is India on the verge of a fourth Covid wave?

<br>Since the beginning of April, India has been continuously registering about 1,000 Covid cases daily, with a few exceptions. However on Monday, the country recorded about 90 per cent jump - the highest so far in the month -- with 2,183 cases. But with 1,247 infections reported on Tuesday, the cases saw a dip.

According to Dr Dipu TS, Associate Professor, Division of Infectious Diseases, Amrita Hospital at Kochi, the rise is majorly caused by the BA.2 sub-variant of the Omicron strain of Covid. The surge in cases is amid a global rise witnessed in China, Hong Kong, US and several countries of Europe.

"In the last three days, we are witnessing a surge in cases, especially in the major metropolitan cities. This could very well denote the start of a next wave. The various epidemiological and mathematical models have already alerted us of a possible surge in cases during the month of May-June," Dr Dipu told IANS.

"I strongly feel that the worst is over and the next wave though inevitable will be milder in severity and magnitude and hence going back to the basics of prevention than panic would be the best," he added.

The expert said that the surge in cases is not completely unwarranted, especially considering the fact that the schools and colleges are opened up and several state governments have lifted mask mandates in the beginning of April for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.

Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan recently wrote to the governments of Maharashtra, Kerala, Mizoram, Delhi and Haryana -- states that are recording a rise -- to remain vigilant, conduct regular monitoring and follow up action in emerging areas of concern.

"Covid-19 jump has been significant in the last couple of days, however, it is only present in a few scattered areas of the country, specifically two or three states, which are Delhi NCR and Haryana. I don't think we should call this another wave as this is just a local spurt in cases," Dr Rahul Pandit, Director-Critical Care, Fortis Hospitals Mumbai, Member of National Covid-19 Taskforce, told IANS.

This was also echoed by IIT Kanpur professor Manindra Agrawal, whose mathematical model has been used as a reference point for understanding Covid activity in the country, who said a fourth wave is unlikely to happen.

He cited, a significant natural immunity as a result of previous infections, good vaccination rate coupled with no new mutants, as the reason.

However, Dr Sushila Kataria, Senior Director, Internal Medicine, Medanta Hospital Gurgaon, disagreed.

She said the surge in infections indicates that we are moving towards the fourth wave and cases will continue to rise in the coming days.

"The fourth wave has started, cases are increasing and will continue to increase over the next three weeks. We are moving steadily towards the fourth peak.

"My expectation is that the cases will increase, as they did in January, but they will not be as severe, and hospitalisations will also be limited. But yes, there will be a sharp increase in the cases," she warned.

Meanwhile, India also recorded two cases of the new XE variant -- a mutant hybrid of Omicron sub-variants BA.1 and BA.2 -- one each from Maharashtra and Gujarat.

"We have always emphasised the fact that Covid-19 has not gone completely, and that people need to follow the learnings of the past year and continue adhering to Covid19-appropriate behaviour," Pandit said.

"This along with the vaccination and the additional dose that the government has rolled out is the single most important thing through which we would be able to control this virus," he noted.

(Rachel V Thomas can be contacted at rachel.t@ians.in)

--IANS<br>rvt/pgh