A minor change in trajectory that began towards the second half of February in Maharashtra and Punjab has now become a steady stream of increasing new infections of Covid-19 across the country in the past week or so. This has led some experts to speculate that this may be the start of India’s second Covid wave. But is this really the start of a new wave of infections? Is it limited to only a handful of regions, or are cases rising everywhere? Amid an ongoing vaccination drive and the fears of mutant strains gaining ground, four charts show how the talks of India’s second wave of infections may be entirely valid.
1. Nationwide resurgence of new infections continues
The seven-day average of new Covid-19 cases (also known as case trajectory) across India has risen by 67% from lows seen after the end of the first wave of the pandemic (from 10,988 cases a day week ending February 11, to 18,371 cases a day for week ending Wednesday), underlining what clearly appears to mark the start of the second wave of infections.
While initially, this increase in cases was gradual, it has slowly been gaining pace and has come at a time when restrictions on several economic and social activities have eased, and people and governments are getting complacent, with almost no mask discipline in many parts of rural India, and even some cities.
The worrying trend, however, is that in most countries in the West that have experienced multiple waves, the second wave (and in some cases third wave) has been stronger than the first in terms of number of daily cases, although the number of deaths were far fewer.
At the same time, testing is at least 40% off its peak across India. In the past week, 725,626 samples were tested every day for Covid-19 across the country on average, against a peak of 1,196,972 tests a day on average for the week ending October 10, 2020.
Chart 1: New Covid-19 cases across India since Jan 1
2. States where cases are rising twice as fast as the national average
Punjab has seen its seven-day average of daily cases go up the most in the country – it has gone up 509% from the trough after the first wave, nearly eight times the national average. The state, which has been at the centre of the farmer agitation in the past three-four months, saw a bottoming out of the case trajectory at 181 cases a day on average for the week ending January 27. Since then, however, cases started rising slowly through the first two weeks of February, after which the case trajectory rose abruptly.
Maharashtra has seen the second highest resurgence of cases after Punjab. The state has witnessed a rise of 331% from its post-peak low seen for the week ending February 11 – from 2,415 average daily infections to 10,410. In absolute numbers, the western state, which is the worst-hit in the country with 2,252,057 confirmed infections and 52,610 deaths till Wednesday, leads all other states and UTs by a massive margin. More than half (57%) of the 128,599 new Covid infections reported across the country in the past week have been in Maharashtra.
Haryana, another state which has seen mass mobilisation of people due to the ongoing farmer agitation, is on the third spot in terms of resurgence of cases. The seven-day average of new infections in the state has gone up 302% from the trough seen for the week ending February 8 – from 74 new infections a day on average to 297 in the past week.
These three states are followed (after a fair gap) by Madhya Pradesh (164% rise from lows seen after the first wave) and Delhi (140% rise from lows), which make up the five states with the most sharply rising cases in the country.
Among other of India’s 20 most populous regions, Assam (138% rise from trough), Gujarat (up 125%) and Rajasthan (rise of 111%) and Andhra Pradesh (105%) are also states of high concern.
Kerala, meanwhile, remains the only state in the country which is yet to bring its primary wave of infections under control. In fact, 17 out of India’s 20 most populated states have seen cases rise 20% more from their troughs.
3. Positivity rate has again started going up
On average, 2.6% of all samples tested across India have been positive for Covid-19 in the past week. While this number is still low in absolute terms (the World Health Organization recommends that the positivity rate from a region that has a comprehensive testing programme should be at or below 5%), the worrying trend is that is it rising again. In less than a month, the average weekly positivity rate in the country has gone up by a percentage point – it was 1.6% for the week ending February 14.
Positivity rate is a crucial metric as experts say it shows how widespread the virus is in the community, and when coupled with an increase new cases, indicates that the virus is not only getting more common in the public, but also spreading fast. As a rule of thumb, tracking a region’s positivity rate serves as a good barometer for whether cases are going to increase or decrease in the coming days, i.e. a rising positivity rate generally means cases will be rising in the immediate future, while a dropping positivity rate tends to precede a drop in cases.
4. Trajectory of active case has been rising for 20 days
Active cases are calculated by subtracting the number of people who have recovered or died from the total number of confirmed infections – it gives us an idea of the number of people that are currently carrying the virus (that we know of). Tracking the rise or fall of active cases is crucial because it reflects the actual spread of a virus in a region. A higher active caseload means that the virus has more hosts in a region, and can thus has a higher chance of spreading to more people.
The seven-day average of change in active cases (unlike total caseload, active cases can fall) has been positive for the last 20 days, or since February 17. For the 80 days before February 17, the active case trend line was negative – this meant that every week, the country was reducing its active caseload. In the past week, however, the country has added 2,251 active cases every day.