The story so far: Since April 1, the number of COVID-19 cases reported daily has been accelerating rapidly in India. On April 21, the country, for the first time, crossed the 3-lakh mark in infections reported in a day, when it saw 3,15,735 cases. On April 20, as many as 2,021 deaths were reported, which further rose to 2,620 on April 23 . While Maharashtra is still reporting the most number of cases daily, there has been a slight dip in the last few days. It is early to say if the second wave has peaked in the State. But Mumbai and Pune, the two cities that reported the most cases in the second wave, have been consistently reporting fewer numbers for the last few days. On the other hand, States such as Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh, which did not experience high daily cases last year, are now witnessing a surge.
Are there any signs of daily cases slowing down nationally?
As of April 23, there is no indication that the cases will start dropping in the next few days. Despite the number of cases reported on April 23 reaching an all-time peak of 3,45,283, the national seven-day average test positivity rate on that day was 18.5%. This indicates that there are more cases that remain undetected. Though the daily number of tests across the country increased from over 11 lakh on April 1 to 17.53 lakhs on April 23, the high test positivity rate indicates that the number of tests being carried out in States witnessing a sharp surge should increase manifold.
Testing has to be increased, particularly in a few States whose seven-day average test positivity rate as of April 23 was way above the national average of 18.5%. These States are Delhi (30.1%), Chhattisgarh (30.1%), Maharashtra (24.6%), Madhya Pradesh (23.8%), Andhra Pradesh (22.2%), and West Bengal (20.5%).
How will higher vaccination coverage help?
It is possible to slow down the spread of the virus by vaccinating all above the age of 18 years, say doctors. However, with several States facing vaccine shortages, the number of daily vaccinations in the last week dipped.
The Serum Institute of India (SII) currently has the capacity to produce 2.4 million doses of Covishield a day. The company has been manufacturing 60-65 million doses a month, and it says production will be ramped up only around June-July, when about 100 million doses can be produced in a month.
Bharat Biotech, the maker of Covaxin, is also increasing capacity at its facilities in Hyderabad and Bengaluru. According to a government release , Covaxin production will be increased from the current 10 million doses a month to 100 million doses by September. A six- to seven-fold increase is expected around July-August. According to Bharat Biotech, the technology to manufacture the vaccine has been transferred to Indian Immunologicals Ltd., which will also produce the vaccine.
With restricted-use approval granted for Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, about 100 million doses are expected to be imported soon by Dr. Reddy’s Lab. Fast-track approvals for Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots are likely to be given when companies apply to the drug regulator.
Will vaccines be free for the 18-44 age group?
According to the recent policy of the Centre, which allows vaccination of those above 18 years from May 1, States are required to procure vaccines directly from the two vaccine manufacturers. The SII has priced the vaccine at ₹400 per dose for State governments and ₹600 per dose for private hospitals. Those above 45 years of age can still avail of the shots for free at government vaccination sites, and for ₹250 per dose at private health facilities. A few States like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Kerala, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Goa have announced free vaccination for all aged 18-44 years at government health facilities.