COVID-19 cases may spike in winter, experts warn; hopeful of vaccine by 2021, says Harsh Vardhan

FP Staff
·8-min read

The number of new coronavirus infections reported daily across the country dropped below 60,000, even as the caseload surged to 71,75,880 and the total recoveries crossed 62 lakh, said the Union health ministry on Tuesday.

This, in the backdrop of Union health minister Harsh Vardhan saying India was expected to have a vaccine against COVID-19 early next year and the vaccine was likely to be from more than one source and NITI Aayog member Dr VK Paul warning that winter could see a spike in coronavirus cases.

The total confirmed cases mounted to 71,75,880, with 55,342 infections being reported in a day. The toll climbed to 1,09,856 as the virus claimed 706 lives in a span of 24 hours, the data updated at 8 am showed.

For the fifth day in a row, the active cases of COVID-19 remained below 9 lakh.

The country has been recording less than 75,000 new infections daily for the fifth consecutive day and fatalities below 1,000 for 10 straight days.

The COVID-19 positivity rate in India is on a downward trend with cumulative positivity rate at 8.07 percent, weekly positivity rate at 6.24 percent and the daily positivity rate at 5.16 percent, Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan said here on Tuesday.

The health ministry also added that with focussed strategies and calibrated measures, India has sustained its global position of being the country with one of the lowest COVID-19 cases per million and reported deaths per million.

Globally, the number of cases reached 38,191,276 with 1,087,371 deaths. According to Worldometer, the US has over eight million cases of COVID-19 and 2,20,011 deaths. India has 7.17 million infections and nearly 110,000 deaths, according to Union health ministry, and Brazil has over five million COVID-19 cases and 1,50,709 deaths.

'Respiratory viruses like SARS-CoV-2 more dangerous during winters'

In view of the upcoming festivals and winter season, Paul urged people to keep following COVID appropriate behaviour such as wearing masks and maintaining social distancing diligently and added that there is no reason to get lax if stability in coronavirus cases is observed.

Stating that second peaks are coming up in many countries and lockdowns are being imposed, Paul also said it is being observed that some people are becoming lenient about following the guidelines. He urged the youth to be cautious as they may infect the elderly in their families.

He said the novel coronavirus is a respiratory virus and these kinds of viruses attack more during the winters. People will be more prone to respiratory infections like pneumonia and influenza in the coming winter months and festive season, he said.

Paul asked the public to keep wearing masks and show no laxity on this aspect, stating that scientific estimates have shown that the pandemic can be controlled up to 36 to 50 percent in this manner.

Dr Sujeet K Singh, director of National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), also noted that the upcoming influenza season might bring more cases of coronavirus if people continued to become lax about precautions.

He informed a group of ministers that advisories have been issued for improving the testing and surveillance activities for seasonal influenza to simultaneously detect it with COVID-19 in view of the upcoming winter

He added that advisories have been issued for improving the testing and surveillance activities for seasonal influenza to simultaneously detect it with COVID-19 in view of the upcoming winter season in the country.

COVID-19 vaccine expected early next year: Govt

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Tuesday said that India was expected to have a vaccine against COVID-19 early next year and the vaccine was likely to be from more than one source.

"We're expecting that early next year, we should have a vaccine in the country from maybe more than one source. Our expert groups are already formulating and devising strategies to plan on how to roll out the distribution of the vaccines in the country, who do we give the vaccine first and then, of course, we are strengthening the cold chain facilities," Dr Harsh Vardhan said during a meeting of the Group of Ministers.

Talking to reporters after the meeting, Vardhan said it was hoped that by July capacity could be developed to provide 400 to 500 million doses of vaccines to 20-25 crore people in the country. A scientific strategy is being designed for the distribution for the vaccine, he said.

Currently, two indigenously-developed vaccine candidates, one by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with ICMR and the other by Zydus Cadila Ltd, are in phase 2 of human clinical trials.

Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII), which has partnered with AstraZeneca for manufacturing the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine candidate also, is also conducting phase 2 and 3 human clinical trials of the vaccine candidate in India.

He added that work is going on around 200 vaccine candidates across the world, of which 151 are in pre-clinical stages and about 40-42 are in various clinical trial stages. Nine vaccine candidates are in an advanced clinical trial stage, of which three are in India.

47% COVID-19 deaths among those below 60

About 47 percent of COVID-19 deaths have been recorded among those aged below 60 years, the health ministry said. Addressing a press briefing, Health ministry secretary Rajesh Bhushan said about 70 percent COVID-19 deaths have been of male patients while 30 percent of fatalities from the infection have been reported in females.

"About 53 percent COVID-19 deaths registered among those aged 60 and above, 35 percent in 45-60 years, 10 percent in 26-44 years and 1 percent each in the age-group 18-25 years and below 17 years," Bhushan said.

Providing data on case fatality rate among different age groups with and without comorbidities, he said in the age group of 60 years and above, 24.6 percent of deaths were of people with comorbidities while 4.8 percent were of those without comorbidities.

The overall case fatality rate of people with comorbidities stood at 17.9 percent and 1.2 percent for those without comorbidities.

World economy in deep recession: IMF

The IMF on Tuesday predicted a deep global recession this year and the world growth to be negative 4.4 percent, asserting that the global economic crisis is far from over mainly due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

In its latest World Economic Outlook report, the International Monetary Fund also said the swift recovery in China has surprised on the upside while the global economy's long ascent back to pre-pandemic levels of activity remains prone to setbacks.

According to the report, in 2021, growth is projected to rebound to 5.2 percent, -0.2 percentage points below its June projection.

The divergence in income prospects between advanced economies and emerging and developing economies, excluding China, triggered by this pandemic is projected to worsen, she said.

The IMF has upgraded its forecast for advanced economies for 2020 to -5.8 percent, followed by a rebound in growth to 3.9 percent in 2021.

Gita Gopinath said for emerging market and developing countries, excluding China, IMF has a downgrade with growth projected to be - 5.7 percent in 2020 and then a recovery to 5 percent in 2021.

Europe eyes new restrictions as cases hit record high

Governments across Europe are ratcheting up restrictions in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus as the continent recorded its highest weekly number of new infections since the start of the pandemic.

The World Health Organisation said Tuesday there were more than 700,000 new COVID-19 cases reported in Europe last week, a jump of 34 percent compared to the previous week, with Britain, France, Russia and Spain accounting for more than half of new infections recorded in the region.

The increasing case numbers are partly the result of more testing, but the UN health agency noted that deaths were also up 16 percent in the region last week compared to the previous week.

In response to the latest numbers, Italy and France are restricting parties and putting limits on restaurants and bars, while Slovenia is considering similar measures.

Britain unveiled a new three-tiered system for deciding what restrictions to impose based on how severe the outbreak is in certain areas.

Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki urged the country's citizens to observe social distancing, wear masks and disinfect hands and spaces used as he himself went into quarantine following contact with someone who later tested positive for COVID-19.

Those moves reflect a new approach to containing the virus among governments wary of hurting already fragile economies. Even as infections surge, officials are eager to avoid the total lockdowns they imposed in the spring that resulted in massive job losses.

Instead, they are relying on a patchwork of regional or targeted restrictions that have sometimes caused confusion and frustration by those affected.

The UN health agency appeared support the new approach, with WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic telling reporters Tuesday in Geneva that lockdowns should be a last resort.

With inputs of agencies

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