Monday, Jan 24, 2022

No Model Good Enough To Predict Covid Wave Beyond 2-4 Weeks: Johns Hopkins Expert David Peters

Scientific models can only help ascertain if non-pharmaceutical interventions can help a country tackle Covid-19 but they cannot predict when a Covid wave will occur, says Peters

No Model Good Enough To Predict Covid Wave Beyond 2-4 Weeks: Johns Hopkins Expert David Peters
A health worker collects swab sample of a passenger arriving from Maharashtra at a COVID-19 testing counter at Patna railway station. -

Predictions of a third Covid wave in India have led to a debate about its timing with the Centre and various state governments trying to adopt a pro-active approach to ensure that they restrict fatalities to the bare minimum.

And while rumours are rampant about the third wave hitting the country in August-September, David Peters, Chair at Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says that there is no model for respiratory diseases, which can predict the graph of the infection beyond 2-4 weeks. 

“It is like forecasting weather before a months’ time. You have some broad ideas but it is not a good prediction,” Peters said.

Responding to Outlook’s queries during a media interaction, Peters further said one can never rely on a single model to make a prediction of this manner.

“A wide variety of models are used. They provide different assumptions and based on them we try to run multiple simulations. The point is you never try to rely on any single model to predict anything beyond 2-4 weeks,” he said.

According to Peters, experts analyse different scenarios and their potential effects before making a prediction. However, these predictions cannot determine the number of cases, the timing of the peak or how long a Covid wave will last.

But the models can help you gauge how well non-pharmaceutical interventions like masking and closing schools will help the country tackle the pandemic, Peters said.

When asked about the third wave of the virus, Peters said one can only predict hotspots and there’s no way of knowing if and when such a wave will occur.

“We can’t predict the third wave but if and when it happens, there will be hot spots. But even with hotspots, you don’t know where or when they will occur. Further, there is no technical definition of a Covid wave,” he added.

However, Peters suggests that while preparing for the third wave, one key aspect that India should look into is the performance of the one dose vaccine strategy vs the two-dose vaccine strategy.

On the question of mutation prediction, the Johns Hopkins expert said, “It is really hard to predict which mutations will become more transmissible and which will cause more severe infections.

Further when asked if India had wasted time and lives by focussing on ineffective Covid treatments such as plasma therapy, Peteres answered in the negative and defended the Centre’s choice for the same.

Further, he also expressed confidence in India’s ability to vaccinate its entire population. “I cannot think preventive measures such as vaccination can substitute short-term measures. And India is highly capable to not just develop vaccines but also test other non-pharmaceutical interventions,” Peters said.


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