Omicron-led third COVID-19 wave may peak in February, subside in a month, say scientists

Health workers set up beds inside a ward being prepared for the omicron coronavirus variant at Civil hospital in Ahmedabad, on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021.&nbsp | &nbspPhoto Credit:&nbspIANS

New Delhi: The third wave of COVID-19 in India is likely to peak in February 2022. However, according to projections by scientists, the Omicron-driven surge is likely to be milder than the second wave, possibly subsiding within a month. As per the Sutra model which tracks the country’s COVID-19 trajectory, the daily caseload is expected to rise as Omicron begins to displace Delta as the dominant variant. However, the projections indicate that cases will dip significantly by April and drop to present levels by May. 

The Sutra model was created by M Vidyasagar of IIT Hyderabad and Maninda Agrawal of IIT Kanpur. The two are also members of the National COVID-19 Supermodel Committee. “Third wave is likely to arrive early next year in India. It should be milder than the second wave due to a large-scale immunity present in the country now,” Vidyasagar had told news agency ANI last week. 

The post-Omicron projections put forth as of December 10 had suggested a slightly different trajectory, indicating that daily infections would peak (with more than 1.5 lakh cases per day) by the end of January. Based on this estimation, cases would drop to existing levels by the end of March. The best-case scenario in contrast indicated that a peak would be reached in mid-February (with approximately 1 lakh cases per day). Cases were projected to subside to existing levels by April in this case.  

According to Vidyasagar however, it is “extremely unlikely” that there will be more cases than seen during the Delta-led second wave. The scientist cited India’s ongoing vaccination drive as well as the fact that serosurveys indicate that only a tiny fraction of the population has not come in contact with the Delta variant. While India had begun vaccinating people in January this year, it was only from March 1 that the inoculation drive was opened to the general populace. To date, India has administered nearly 139 crore doses of vaccine. Of these, 55.83 crore individuals are fully vaccinated.

Experts however emphasise that much remains unknown when it comes to the Omicron variant. First detected in mid-November, it has since spread to at least 90 countries and has now become the dominant strain in the US and some other nations. On Tuesday, the Union Health Ministry asked the states to activate war rooms and track COVID-19 trends. The Omicron variant, officials said, was three times more transmissible than Delta. 

Even in a worst-case scenario, however, experts predict that the daily caseload will remain below 1.7 to 1.8 lakh per day. It must be noted that at the peak of the second wave, India had set global records with a case tally of more than 4 lakh per day. According to the scientists, the worst-case scenario they have simulated would entail a total loss of immunity conferred due to vaccination and maximum loss of naturally induced immunity. They also assumed that community transmission of Omicron has already started.

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