One of the United States’ most highly regarded epidemiologists, who has been working on mathematical models of the trajectory of COVID-19 in India says India probably already has up to 30 million cases and in the next six weeks the total is likely to jump to 100 million. Professor Brahmar Mukherjee says the tally of 30 million includes the present official figure of 1.3 million and a further 28 million undetected asymptomatic cases.
In a 50-minute interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire, Mukherjee said the tally of official detected cases will go up to 2 million by August 15 and 3 million by the end of August. At the moment it’s just over 1.3 million, but increasing by nearly 50,000 each day.
Mukerjee told The Wire there was no doubt that community transmission was happening in India. She said there were clearly cases where people could not identify the source of infection and that is the definition of community transmission. In a pointed reference to government doctors and civil servants who have repeatedly insisted there is no community transmission, she said “I’d really like to know how scientists prove there is no community transmission.”
Mukherjee said that because India is a subcontinent it won’t have a nationwide peak but “a cascade of peaks over the next two to three months” as different regions peak at different times.
Mukherjee added that India “needs to do 40 million more tests as of today” but that may not be doable. In that case, it needs to supplement whatever level of testing is possible with extensive syndromic surveillance done door-to-door in containment zones. She pointed out that whilst India has only tested 1.2% of its population the US has done 14% and Russia 17%.
However, Mukherjee said she was “ very proud of Delhi.” She said she had been monitoring Delhi everyday and was “fairly confident it had gone through its peak”. She said Delhi’s reproduction rate (RO) has been under one since June 29th and today has fallen further to 0.76.
Mukherjee said though she did not endorse the Indian government’s stress on the recovery rate she does believe that India’s death rate of 23 per million is reassuring.
She said even if one out of ten deaths are reported and only one out of twenty cases are reported the infection fatality rate still comes somewhere between 0.4 and 1.0 and that is reassuringly low. However she suggested the jury is still out as to the reasons that explain this. India’s age demographics are likely to be at least one explanation.
Mukherjee told The Wire she was sceptical of long term projections and that’s why she did not want to project beyond six weeks. She said the reality on the ground keeps changing everyday and that makes long term projections difficult. MIT in America has projected India could see over 250,000 cases each day in 2021 if there is no vaccine.
The above is a paraphrased précis of professor Mukherjee’s interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire. Please see the full interview for full details and accuracy.