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Scientists question IIT Kanpur study that predicted a fourth Covid wave in June


The yet-to-be peer-reviewed study, posted on the preprint repository MedRxiv, used a statistical model to make the prediction, finding that the possible new wave will last for four months.

Forecasting models are good only for short-term projections and an IIT-Kanpur study predicting a fourth Covid wave in India in June may at best be “data astronomy” and guesswork, several scientists told news agency PTI.

Dispelling fears of another spike in cases in the next three months, they also took note of the fact that most people in India have had two vaccines and one natural infection. So even if there is a wave, the consequences in terms of hospitalisation and deaths should be manageable unless there is a new variant.

“Active cases are decreasing quite fast — and from looking at the current trends we certainly cannot say anything about a new wave in the future,” said Sithabra Sinha, professor at Chennai’s Institute of Mathematical Sciences (IMSc).

The study led by Sabara Parshad Rajeshbhai, Subhra Sankar Dhar, and Shalabh of IIT Kanpur’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics shows that the severity of the fourth wave will depend on the emergence of a possible new coronavirus variant, and vaccination status across the country.

“The data indicates that the fourth wave of Covid-19 in India will arrive after 936 days from the initial data availability date, which is January 30, 2020,” the authors of the study said.

“Therefore, the fourth wave starts from June 22, 2022, reaching its peak on August 23, 2022, and ends on October 24, 2022,” they wrote in the research paper.

However, the researchers noted that there is always a fair chance that a possible new variant of coronavirus may have an intense impact on the whole analysis. The impact will depend on the various factors like the variant’s infectibility, fatality, etc, they said.

Interestingly, the government has recently said it looks at such studies with due respect but it is yet to examine whether this particular report has a scientific worth or not.

NITI Aayog Member (Health) V K Paul said the government’s approach is to be completely prepared for the unpredictable virus but whether the IIT study has a scientific worth or not is yet to be examined.

The precise timing itself is suspect, Gautam Menon, the professor, Departments of Physics and Biology, Ashoka University in Haryana told PTI. Menon has been tracking Covid numbers in India since the beginning of the pandemic. The methodology, in his view, is doubtful and any modelling exercise making predictions months in advance is not trustworthy.

“I would not trust any such prediction, especially one with precise dates and times.”

Another public health expert Bhramar Mukherjee said the kind of prediction made in the IIT Kanpur paper is akin to data astrology, not data science.

“I do not believe in the former. In my experience, forecasting models are very good with short-term prediction two-four weeks ahead of time,” Mukherjee, professor of Global Public Health at the University of Michigan, US, told PTI.

“Emergence of new variants, continuation of vaccination coverage and eventually, a booster policy will determine when and how Covid-19 will re-emerge,” Laxminarayan, director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy in Washington and New Delhi, told PTI.

Defending their study, authors Rajeshbhai, Sankar Dhar and Shalabh said the scientific calculations used in the paper are based on certain statistical models and scientific assumptions. The usage of such models and assumptions are common in academics and research, they told PTI in a joint email.

“We have attempted to make forecasting using some statistical modelling which we think may work in such scenarios. In research, we are always attempting to solve an unknown problem based on scientific framework,” the statement said.

“But often several assumptions are required for the statistical inferences drawn. However, no one can guarantee the success beyond a certain confidence level, as there can be several factors that could influence the prediction which are mentioned in the preprint of the paper,” the authors added.

Interestingly, the government has recently said it looks at such studies with due respect but it is yet to examine whether this particular report has a scientific worth or not.

NITI Aayog Member (Health) V K Paul said that the IIT Kanpur study is a “valuable input” produced by eminent people. He said the government’s approach is to be completely prepared for the unpredictable virus but whether the IIT study has a scientific worth or not is yet to be examined.

According to Union Health Ministry figures on Saturday, 5,921 people tested positive for the infection in a day, taking India’s case tally to 4,29,57,477 (42.9 million/4.29 crore). Active cases were at 63,878.



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