Health chiefs in India warn of third coronavirus wave as variants loom

Makeshift crematoriums have been established in India to burn the bodies of people who have died from the coronavirus.
Makeshift crematoriums have been established in India to burn the bodies of people who have died from the coronavirus. AP - Altaf Qadri

With India struggling to curb the spread of a devastating Covid-19 wave and step up vaccinations, experts have warned the country to prepare for a third wave of the pandemic. 


“In the wake of the changing nature of the variants, we must be ready for the third wave,” said K Vijay Raghavan, the principal scientific adviser to the government.

"We can't predict the timing, but it seems inevitable. We must prepare ourselves and be ready for it."

Raghvan’s warnings are in stark contrast to the government’s messaging at the beginning of this year, after India’s first Covid wave ebbed. 

Victory was declared over the pandemic in the country.

A few months on, there has been no let-up in the current crippling surge.


India recorded an all-time high of 414,182 new cases of infections and 3,920 fatalities in the last 24 hours.

For more than a fortnight, the country has witnessed more than 300,000 cases, taking its tally well past 21 million cases and pushing its healthcare system to the brink.

Experts warned that a third wave is foreseeable and said that surveillance and vaccine updates were needed as the virus mutates.

Giridhar Babu, epidemiologist and professor at the Indian Institute of Public Health in Bengaluru, said the third wave is likely to hit India around November and early December.

"Thus, ensuring that all vulnerable sections are vaccinated before the festive season is important," added Babu who is also a member and advisor to the Covid task force of Karnataka.

"The next wave will affect mostly young people."

M Vidyasagar, a mathematical modeling expert added: “India needs to have its vaccination programme well underway. Even if people begin to lose their immunity, they should not remain susceptible to catch the virus."


Estimates show India is in the grip of a public health emergency.

Rural districts in at least 10 states recorded more cases and deaths in April and the list includes high-risk states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan among others.

The rising number of cases and the shortage of available emergency services have also prompted a sort of migration, with villagers heading towards urban centres, sometimes to other states, in a desperate attempt to find care.

“Accounts coming in from the ground across many states point to the  distress that could quickly turn into misfortune for a huge swathe of the population if not addressed immediately,” Bharti Sharma, a public health consultant told RFI.

Despite calls for harsher restrictions, the prime minister, Narendra Modi, has been reluctant to declare a nationwide lockdown over possible repercussions on the recovering economy.

However, several states have extended lockdowns and restrictions.

The southern state of Kerala has announced a nine-day shutdown starting on Saturday. Madhya Pradesh has extended its curfew until 15 May.


“The history of this pandemic will have to clearly shout out one key failure - the failure of governance. The distress has reached epochal proportions,” said political scientist Suhas Palshikar. 

Over the last two weeks ,several high courts have taken up petitions, in some cases of their own accord, over the government’s response to the second wave of the pandemic.

India’s supreme court has flagged up warnings of an impending third wave of Covid-19 and stressed the need for completing vaccination and for creating buffer stock of oxygen.

“We may enter stage three [third wave] and if we prepare today we may be able to handle it," said Justice D Y Chandrachud.

"Whatever stocks procured need to be sent to hospitals. It’s not about allocating it to the state but also the logistics to see that it is distributed to hospitals."

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