Representative image | Miguel Á. Padriñán | Pexels
Representative image | Miguel Á. Padriñán | Pexels
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When will the coronavirus pandemic come to an end? The question is on everyone’s mind, and while astrologers and politicians have answers, few scientists want to be drawn into hazarding a prediction.

According to Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan’s recent remarks, the spread of coronavirus has already been contained in India because “half the total cases are from three states only and another 30 per cent from seven others.” But India has crossed two million Covid-19 positive cases and the graph continues to rise.


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The endings

As Gina Kolata wrote in The New York Times earlier this year, medical historians recognise two types of endings. The medical ending, when the disease stops spreading; and the social ending, when people overcome their anxieties and move on. It would be appropriate to add a third type of ending: the political, when the government decides that as far as it is concerned, the pandemic is over. Any of these three endings could occur first, as political leaders and society can decide to move on regardless of whether the cases have peaked. If we look at the world today, it would not be overly cynical to conclude that politicians would rather move on, and that societies are distracted to such dysfunctional levels by social media-driven outrage cycles that they often ignore the extant pandemic. Maybe India is already at this point.

What about the medical ending? “It is impossible to put a date on it. If anyone tells you a date, they are staring into a crystal ball. The reality is that it will be with us forever because it has spread now,” Simon Clarke, a British cellular microbiologist offers the scientific establishment’s answer. Prudent and circumspect as this answer is, it is unsatisfying. It is hard for people to grapple with such an open-ended answer and is unhelpful for policymakers who need a base case to work on.


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Vaccine has most answers

The conventional way to try to answer the question of ‘when new Covid-19 cases will start declining’ is to look towards the vaccine. Once a safe and effective vaccine has been discovered, trialled, manufactured and administered to a significant proportion of the population, society will acquire “herd immunity” against the SARS-CoV-19 virus, and the outbreak will be brought under control. It is estimated that 50 per cent to 75 per cent of the population will have to acquire immunity — either through infection or vaccination — for herd immunity to kick in.

How long will this take? Moncef Slaoui, one of the world’s foremost vaccine experts and chief advisor to the US government’s Operation Warp Speed project, is confident that up to 40 million at-risk people in the US will be vaccinated by February 2021. Goldman Sachs mirrors this confidence and expects the US drug regulator to approve at least one vaccine in 2020, and that “large shares of the US and European populations will be vaccinated” by June and September 2021, respectively. Vivek Murthy, former US surgeon-general, injects a degree of caution into these assessments, warning that the pandemic will not end before 2022. Russia plans to announce a vaccine this month, and China might do so by the end of the year, but it will be at least a year before we in India will receive those injections.

Vaccines might not offer permanent immunity, necessitating regular vaccination to keep Covid-19 at bay. Indian vaccine manufacturers are preparing to ramp up production, and as I’ve argued recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Union government must start planning the national vaccination campaign now, rather than later. If we are optimistic, we could say that India will have mass vaccination by late 2021.


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Herd immunity hope, but without the vaccine

But remember that there’s another route to herd immunity — when enough people develop immunity to the virus by being exposed to it. Here’s a cynically optimistic back-of-the-envelope (COBOTE) calculation.

Let us assume India is undercounting Covid-19 positive cases. This is a reasonable assumption to make. Even a country like Switzerland estimates that “for every reported confirmed case, there were 11.6 infections in the community.” If we assume that India is undercounting at this order of magnitude, we have over 20 million positive cases in India today, doubling roughly every 20 days. If this holds, over 50 per cent of the population will have immunity by mid-November 2020, and the country will be at the threshold of herd immunity. The outbreak in Mumbai’s Dharavi area started slowing down when 40 per cent of its residents were infected.

This is good news. In fact, the more the undercounting, the faster we will hit the herd immunity threshold. Even if there is no undercounting, at the current doubling rate, half the country’s population will have immunity by Republic Day 2021.

There is, of course, bad news. Very bad news, in fact, for the case fatality rate is 2 per cent. That’s lower than in many other countries, but for India it still means a lot of deaths.

My COBOTE estimate is consistent with that of Bhaskaran Raman and his colleagues from IIT-Bombay who use Michael Levitt’s model to conclude that the pandemic in India will taper down by October 2020. Using the same model, but perhaps with different assumptions, my collaborator Karthik Shashidhar gives February 2021 as the date when the pandemic will ‘end’. Levitt’s model is pure “curve fitting” based on observations elsewhere. It doesn’t tell you why the cases will peak and decline. It could be due to my COBOTE reasoning. In any case, these estimates are much more optimistic than the “November ’21 or later” that a majority of the respondents to my Twitter poll felt.

Scientists are wise not to offer predictions on when the pandemic will end for there are too many factors at play. Mere analysts can take some liberties: I think some combination of infection and vaccination will cause the situation to improve by the end of 2021, perhaps as early as this November. The important thing, as I have argued before, is to be stoic about it.

The author is the director of the Takshashila Institution, an independent centre for research and education in public policy. Views are personal.

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19 COMMENTS

  1. Vaccination ended in July 2021 without vaccination and with herd immunity and summer heat and the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

  2. This is COVID -19 pandemic ever world has seen it’s getting out completely is impossible as the origin of virus is not known. Now see there is no proper medicine for it’s treatment and vaccines are not working on different variants as this is never ending story .WHO has to be strong to find it’s origin but it’s our bad part the pandemic started last year in Wuhan animal meat market so it’s origin is to found .But WHO gave clean chit to China .On other hand I think global warming and climate changes pollution uses of natural resources have increased but it’s limited after resources end where man spices will go. I think the earth itself has given it’s sign of end and fight for survival of mankind .Scientist are interested in searching life on other planets itself shows some danger is there in future .On other hand no one is telling clearly why there is oxygen efficiency on earth due to nuclear weapons trial .As nuclear weapons are also too dangerous .So I pray for everybody that these sign of climate changes and global warming is dangerous try to plant trees and don’t cut jungles water treatment plant should do proper treatment and then put in rivers or ocean.As many spieces have ended on earth and same will happen with human beings .Second thingh is population outbreak so there should be some control as farming has completely changed and one day will come there will be people dying due to starvation.So life is not easy.Medical sciences has also become a business nobody is intrested in finding proper route only marketing of medicienes is done .So proper regulatory bodies should be present .And as a science student I say it’s very difficult for mankind to survive in future. The day is not far when resources like water ,Petrol and etc will end and human spieces will also end .So be alert and search for good mediciene and treatment and keep safe our resoursses for future . This is right time to start .

  3. پایان همه گیری بدون واکسن و با مصونیت گله و گرمای تابستان و اشعه ماورا بنفش خورشید در ماه جولای ۲۰۲۱پایان خواهد یافت

    • Vaccination ended in July 2021 without vaccination and with herd immunity and summer heat and the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

    • Hello, I have been rejecting the covid 19 mutations and statistics in the world for about a year, and you predicted the two models cobote and Shashidhar, the end of all choices, in November and February 2020, which are predicted in the mathematical formula. There is. Nature Magazine was published with regard to items such as the rate of all-use and accumulation of viruses and infections and the improvement of disease with this prediction if I found in the research that this formula is correct but other items are also included that It causes mutations. English and Brazilian, and recently there has been an Indian mutation, and it is these large mutations that cause a severe wave of mortality and initiative. It occurs at the change of seasons, and even the vaccine cannot use its spread if the other item Other things that may be present are humidity and heat and the amount of ultraviolet rays of the sun, etc. I will finish considering these items in July 2021, so I know its formula as another time in the world. It reaches the immunity of the herd before it is the whole world. Get vaccinated because it took another 3 year

      • Another reason to accept the above view is that it is true that new mutations cause transmission and death, but for this reason in the region with countries where new mutations such as the British, etc., cause faster immunity. Be. And your opinion is already high if you want to die in England and increase it compared to its population in the country, if it is too much, if the immunity of the herd is bad, its speed will increase and not because of vaccination. But less than the immunity of the general herd and Adips, in my opinion, in Iran, where about 800 million people die and are hospitalized, the speed of transmission of the new mutation in June or early June will be very low. Up to 20 pieces. The death toll and the number of hospitalizations are declining due to the immunity of the herd to the new mutant virus, which has a high rate of transmission if it is in India because of the high population this happens much later due to the new Indian mutation.

        • Another reason to recommend the opinion is that as there are more than 30,00 types of coronavirus in bats during a year, there can be different mutations of this disease, but the speed of transmission and the number of deaths of the English and Brazilian type or You do not have India, so these are not three types of mutations and it is another type of virus. According to the above formula, any type of virus in a community creates immunity after infection. It causes faster than the first types in December 2020. By restricting the entry of new types of English, Brazilian and Indian, it has not allowed the extraordinary formula of the herd to be released, and in Italy in particular, only 30% of the vaccine has been vaccinated to date, but the disease is very rare and even gone. Life is normal, it has returned to normal, but in countries where the English and Indian types are spread, etc., because it is a new type and the vaccines are weakened against it, they are not yet infected, but it is a new type that spreads faster and is the same. The ratio is faster. According to the above formula, the disease will end by the end of summer 202 before the whole world is vaccinated.

  4. Holy Quran [Completer Final Heavenly Revelation superseding past Partial Heavenly Revelations] describes Plagues are sent by Allmighty God to a Godless world/communities to make them realize God’s Omnipresence and omnipotence and to Reform. And in case if Humans ignore the warning bells,the plague is continued by God.in one instance God continued the plague for upto three years also,and when the nation/community ignored those signs and refused Reform,Allmighty God destroyed them completely.This is the real facts behind plagues/virus.nisaruddinjeddy@gmail.com

  5. This year 2020 schools and colleges are not going to reopen because of CoVID-19 various we will reopen it next year 2021-22 because vaccine is going to come in Dec 2020

  6. This year 2020 schools and colleges are not going to reopen because of CoVID-19 various we will reopen it next year 2021-22 because vaccine is going to come in Dec 2020

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