Karnataka reported 14,304 COVID-19 cases on May 31 - the lowest daily infections in over a month. Bengaluru, the epicentre of Karnatakaâ€™s COVID-19 infections also reported 3,418 fresh cases, the lowest since mid-April.
The state has been under a lockdown since April 27 night, with strict restrictions in place until June 7. In fact, the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) on Sunday recommended that lockdown should remain in place until the statewide test positivity rate (TPR) falls below 5%. On May 31, the stateâ€™s TPR was 12.3%, which was lower than the statewide daily average for the past 7 days (May 25-31) of 14.27%. The statewide daily average TPR was 21.78% for the week between May 17-23 and 31.21% for May 11-16.
Although Karnatakaâ€™s TPR has been decreasing, TNM spoke with two members of the TAC, who emphasised the need for a staggered easing of restrictions, the importance of COVID-19 appropriate behaviour and vaccinations.
Pointing to Bengaluruâ€™s test positivity rate- which is between 17%-20% - Dr Pradeep Banandur, Head of Department of Epidemiology, NIMHANS, said, â€śI personally feel we should unlock only if we reach a positivity rate of around 8%.â€ť Another member, Dr CN Manjunath, Director of Jayadeva Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences and TAC member, said, â€śThe trend of decline is suggesting that maybe by the second or third week of June, we will see the positivity rate go well below 10%. But this can happen only if there is strict implementation of guidelines against mass gatherings till the end of this yearâ€”- be it marriage, social, political and COVID-19 appropriate behaviour is followed.â€ť He suggested that other commercial activities can open up with restrictions.
Deaths remain a worry
While the number of fresh cases has seen a steady decline, the number of fatalities remain high in Karnataka, with the case fatality ratio (CFR) increasing. The average CFR for the last 7 days (May 25-31) is 2.03%, which is higher than average CFR of 1.62% of May 17-23. The case fatality rate for May 31 was 3.24%. The TAC in its recommendation has asked that the case fatality rate should also be considered before opening up.
Dr Manjunath said that the death numbers will continue to remain high for the next couple of weeks as these deaths are often of persons suffering prolonged illnesses in ICUs.
Herd immunity far away
Dr Pradeep noted that until a good majority of the population is vaccinated, the public has to get used to the new normal of physical distancing and masks. He said the sheer spike in case numbers has resulted in the number of deaths. He said vaccination has protected a majority of the senior citizen population from severe disease and that has meant a comparatively higher number of deaths in the younger population. Experts also opined that lower number of random tests have also contributed to a higher CFR this time around.
Dr Manjunath said Bengaluru and the rest of Karnataka can expect to get herd immunity only by December when vaccination numbers pick up. â€śCurrently, with the vaccination and natural infections, maybe 50% of us are exposed to the virus but for herd immunity we need that to be at least 80%,â€ť he said.
Unlike Dr Manjunath, Dr Pradeep said herd immunity may not be achieved through natural infections due to multiple variants, and instead the government has to rely entirely on vaccination numbers. He cited a recent serosurvey done at a few slums in Bengaluru where it was found that 20-30% of the population there had antibodies. However, he said it wonâ€™t be prudent to comment further without wider surveys.