The centre was given advance warning – on April 2 – of a surge in coronavirus cases that would peak around the middle of May, Dr M Vidyasagar, who is a professor at IIT (Hyderabad) and leads the COVID-19 Supermodel Committee, told NDTV on Monday night.
Dr Vidyasagar said the centre was warned of a predicted peak of around 1.2 lakh new cases per day sometime between May 15-22. The timing of the peak was later revised to the first week of May.
“I think everyone could see cases were beginning to rise. By March 13 numbers were showing a clear upward trend. But at that point we lacked data to make a prediction. On April 2 we made a formal prediction – of around 1.2 lakh new cases per day by May 15 to 22,” Dr Vidyasagar said.
The predicted peak, as he, admitted, was “off by quite a bit” – India is now recording over 3.5 lakh new cases per day – but the timing was accurate, and fits a study by IIT (Kanpur) scientists, who last month said daily cases in the second wave would peak by May 8.
The Kanpur study also predicted a peak of 38 to 44 lakh active cases between May 14 and 18.
So it is not clear what will the final values be.
Peak timing: May 14-18 for active infections and May 4-8 for new infections.
Peak value: 38-48 lakhs for active infections and 3.4 to 4.4 lakhs for new infections.
— Manindra Agrawal (@agrawalmanindra) April 24, 2021
The studies raise an important question – was the centre aware of a potentially devastating spike in COVID-19 cases? If so, what measures did it take, if any, to counter the wave?
“… (initial) predicted timing was around May 15-22 and that is important because there were some plans to implement solutions that could take three to four months to materialise. We wanted to convey that ‘no, you don’t have that kind of time. Whatever we do has to pay off in the next four weeks’,” Dr Vidyasagar said.
Dr Vidyasagar said the centre shifted from long- and medium-term plans to short-term plans.
Based on the events of the past few weeks, however, those plans seem to have been inadequate.
The oxygen crisis in Delhi and other parts of the country is an example.
On Sunday night 24 people died in Karnataka’s Chamarajanagar after a drop in oxygen supply.
The day before, in Delhi, 12 people died at a private hospital. This was a week after 25 people died at another hospital. In both cases, the hospitals had flagged oxygen supply issues.
The Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court have slammed the centre over failure to ensure oxygen supply, as well as provide adequate numbers of hospital beds and medicines.
Questions have also been raised about warnings from five scientists who were part of a panel set up by the centre and reported to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In early March, the panel flagged risks posed by more contagious strains of the virus that were beginning to circulate in the country.
Four of those scientists told news agency Reuters the centre appeared to ignore the warning.
Since then several mass gatherings – where thousands went without face masks or social distancing – have been held, including campaign rallies for state elections and the mega Kumbh festival in Uttarakhand’s Haridwar.
The centre has introduced several measures since the second wave struck – ranging from importing oxygen to increasing production of key drugs and from roping in the armed forces to deploying med students and interns to increase human resources.
But if it knew of a surge in cases, could more have been done?
On Monday morning India reported more than 3.68 lakh new cases and over 3,400 deaths in 24 hours. Active cases are now over 34 lakh – over three times the record high from the first wave.
With input from Reuters, PTI