Numbers Matter | The pandemic hits Europe and US — again. India should watch out
Starting midnight on Monday, Austria became the first country in the world to reimpose a full national lockdown to curb Covid-19 infections for the second time. In the past week, the seven-day average of daily infections in the country (a number that denotes a region’s case curve) has soared to 14,125 new cases a day, the highest ever there. In the past two weeks, this number has gone up by nearly 75%, according to data compiled by Our World in Data.
But it is when the case numbers are seen with the population of the country in mind, does the scope of the outbreak truly becomes clear – on average, the country of around nine million people has reported more than 1,500 cases a day in the past week for every million residents. For context as to how high that number is, even at the peak of the brutal second wave in India, the average new cases per million residents never went above 300. The third wave in the United States (US) peaked at an average of 750 new cases a day per million residents.
The full nationwide lockdown, an extreme measure by any definition, was clearly necessitated because Austria is clearly in the middle of one of the worst waves of outbreaks ever witnessed.
But it is not the only nation in the world currently seeing such a high volume of cases.
Austria’s neighbour, Germany, is also going through the worst phase of its outbreak ever. On average, Germany has reported 51,053 new cases of Covid-19 every day in the past week. This is an 81% increase in the past two weeks. While relative to the population, Germany (608 average new cases per million in the past week) fares better than Austria, the former is still experiencing a wave that is nearly twice the severity of the previous peak of the outbreak there (December end, when Germany saw 306 cases per million).
Several other European nations are also going through the worst phase of their outbreaks. These include the Netherlands (average of 21,615 new cases a day in the past week), Czechia (17,427 new cases a day), Belgium (15,869) and Slovakia (10,110) to name a few.
All these numbers become particularly stark when seen relative to their populations. Slovakia, for instance, with 1,851 new cases a day per million in the past week, is the world’s largest current hotspot for Covid-19. It is followed by Czechia (1,625 new cases a day per million), Belgium (1,364) and the Netherlands (1,258 average daily cases per million).
The rising outbreak, however, is not only limited to these countries. A majority of European nations are seeing a strong resurgence trend right now. This includes nations such as the United Kingdom, France, Russia, Poland, Italy, Greece, among many more.
Across the Atlantic, the US, which is the world’s worst-hit country by the virus in terms of total cases and deaths, is again seeing a rising trend in infections. In absolute numbers (not relative to population), it is the US that is still the country reporting the most cases in the world. On average, it has reported more than 95,000 cases every day in the past week. The timing of the latest rise is particularly alarming as the latest wave of cases comes ahead of the holiday travel season, which experts fear may lead to an extended winter wave.
All this means that for the first time since the end of September, the seven-day average of daily infections across the world again soared above the half-million mark. Out of every 10 infections reported in the past week in the world, six have come from Europe (currently the biggest outbreak centre), while two have come from North America. The rising infections in both these continents are clearly fuelling the global wave again.
The most alarming part about soaring numbers through these regions is the fact that nearly all these nations are highly vaccinated. In Belgium, for instance, 74% of the country’s population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19. This number is 73% in the Netherlands, 67% in Germany, 64% in Austria, 58% in the US and Czechia, and 43% in Slovakia.
Such an outbreak in the West has plenty of lessons for the world (and particularly for India). This trend clearly shows that being highly vaccinated is not a guarantee that a country will not see a new wave of infections (but it will in fact save lives – while average new cases across the world have risen 40% from mid-October levels, deaths have only gone up around 6%).
Closer home, the numbers (in both cases as well as vaccination) are quite different. The number of fully vaccinated constitute only 29% of India’s total population. But the case trajectory right now is the best seen in at least 17 months, data shows. On Monday, for instance, India saw 7,342 new cases of Covid-19 – the lowest in a single day since May 28, 2020, or in 543 days. The seven-day average of new cases for the week ended Monday was 10,041, the lowest since June 11, 2020, or in 529 days. Most importantly, this number is still dropping.
So, what does another surge in the West mean for India?
Essentially, it means that India seeing another surge of Covid-19 infections still remains a plausible, if not probable, outcome. Countries with far higher vaccination coverage than India are grappling with surges far worse than what they had experienced in the past.
Many experts have attributed India’s still-declining wave to the fact that natural immunity from the country’s brutal second wave still appears to be offering some protection against the disease. But come December, it will be seven months since the second wave in the country peaked – the point from where natural immunity begins to decline, according to a study published in the journal Immunity.
These factors reinforce the need for continuing with pandemic-appropriate behaviour across India and completing adult vaccinations, particularly when there are such clear examples of the trajectory reversing strongly across the West.
The views expressed are personal