NEW DELHI: India’s three-week countrywide lockdown will not be sufficient to prevent a resurgence of the novel coronavirus outbreak that could bounce back and cause thousands of infections within months, a study by University of Cambridge researchers has suggested.
The study, being examined by the Indian Council of Medical Research in order to prepare future strategy to contain the outbreak, has suggested that three lockdowns – for 21-days, 28-days and 18-days – with relaxations of five days in between would be more effective to slow the spread and reduce the number of infections.
Ronojoy Adhikari and Rajesh Singh at the Centre for Mathematical Sciences, University of Cambridge, have developed the first-ever model for India that takes into account the various social contacts between people in households and workplaces to predict the course of the infection and the impact of the lockdown.
This approach has allowed them to predict for the first time the mortality across different age groups. For instance, their model predicts that in the absence of social distancing measures, India could face over six lakh deaths among people aged 60 – 64, four lakh deaths among people aged 65 – 69, and around three lakh deaths among people in their 20s.
However, when the model examined the impact of the three-week lockdown that started on March 25, it predicted that while the numbers of new infections will reduce during the lockdown, they will quickly rise again to more than 6,000 by May 15.
The model also predicts a similar rise after two lockdowns or even three lockdowns and suggests that the most effective way to slow the spread of the virus would be a 49-day lockdown. But even after that, the country’s people will be susceptible to the virus – fresh entry of the virus from across India’s border would start the chain of infections again.
The forecasts are consistent with what virologists have been saying – that India and the world will need to learn to live with the virus.
“The lockdown is a tool to slow down the surge in cases and will help the country manage the cases as they emerge but if someone thinks that virus will disappear at the end of the lockdown period, they are dreaming,” said Dr Shahid Jameel, a virologist and the CEO at Wellcome Trust DBT India Alliance.
Dr T Jacob John, another senior virologist attached with the Christian Medical College in Vellore said that in addition to lockdowns, the government should also aggressively start tracing, isolating and treating infected people in order to “flatten the graph.”