New covid-19 cases in India were set to remain below the 100,000 mark for the second straight day on Tuesday, taking the infection curve below last year’s peak numbers, although the decline in daily death count was less steep.

This coincides with more states beginning to reopen as the devastating second wave of the pandemic weakens.

By 11pm, covid19india.org had tallied nearly 90,000 cases, with some states yet to report their data. On Monday, India had reported nearly 86,000 cases.

Hope returns

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Hope returns

While the positivity rate is now far lower than the first-wave peak, the number of active cases still remains higher than last year, an indicator of the long trail left behind by the second wave. The decline on Monday was on the back of a sharp fall in testing over the weekend.

It has now been a month since the second-wave peak of more than 414,000 cases, which was over four times the first peak of 16 September 2020.

But the gradual lifting of lockdowns also poses a risk, given that the second wave is far from over in some parts. Eight states are still witnessing more cases than they did at their worst in 2020. Tamil Nadu’s 18,023 cases on Tuesday is almost three times its last peak. Odisha and West Bengal are recording almost 40% more cases than their previous peaks.

A cause for concern still

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A cause for concern still

Elsewhere, the worst may be over. By late April, most Indian states had announced stringent lockdowns.

The positivity rate, or the share of tests turning positive, peaked at more than 22% in early May and has since declined to 3.8%, even lower than the first-wave peak of 8.6%. This means India is reporting nearly as many new cases as it did at its 2020 peak, despite testing many more people.

Multiple statistical models predicted that the second wave would be on its way out by this time. Unlike last year, the second-wave curve has been steep in both its ascent and descent.

While daily new cases are down to a fourth of what it was at the second peak, fatalities have only halved. The daily death count peaked on 18 May, when it reached 4,529, the highest single-day rise ever recorded by a country. India’s daily toll remains at more than 2,000, several notches above the first-wave peak.

A decline in infections typically reflects in the death count with a lag of two to three weeks. Several states are also reporting past deaths with a delay.

Meanwhile, economic activity is inching up again. The Nomura Business Resumption Index, which takes into account several high-frequency indicators, has risen from 60.2 at its lowest in May to 69.7, with 100 denoting pre-pandemic activity.

However, states will be wary: active cases remain high at 1.3 million, 28% more than the 2020 peak.

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