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Second wave: some facts

The second wave of COVID infections in India started in mid-March 2021 (when the long-term downward trend in daily cases reversed and started rising) and lasted for about 3 months till mid-June 2021.2 At its peak, the daily new infections reached about 400,000 (0.41 million) cases (7-days moving average) in the first week of May 2021, which was more than 4 times higher than the previous peak figure of 0.097 million cases per day observed in mid-September 2020. By 21 June 2021, the latest reported figure, average of daily new infections has fallen to about 60,000 continuing a downward trend and exhibiting waning effects of the second wave. About 62% (about 18.5 million) of the total cumulative infections in India (29.9 million as of 20 June 2021) occurred during the second wave.3 The second Covid-19 wave has also been more deadly, accounting for nearly half of the total cumulative deaths (0.38 million deaths) since January 2020.4

The unexpected surge in new daily COVID-19 infections during the second wave put immense pressure on health systems across the country, overwhelming COVID-19 care facilities and human resources acting as first responders. Critical drugs and medical oxygen were found to be insufficient to meet the sudden surge in their requirement at the peak of the second wave.5 It also exposed initially, to certain extent the lack of preparedness of Government to take actions, in case of a recurrence of second wave, however, later the Government took some quick actions to contain the infections. The mutated Delta variant (The B.1.617.2 variant of COVID-19 virus), the most common in the samples sequenced during the second wave in India, which is observed to have spread faster and therefore potentially more infectious, is deemed to have worsened rate of infection during the second wave in India.6

1 This paper has been prepared with the objective of sharing information on some good examples in controlling the effect of COVID-19 pandemic. The views expressed are purely personal and do not reflect the views of UNESCAP. The authors are also thankful to the officials from the Ministry of Health, and the Department of Commerce, Government of India, as well as researchers for their review and comments.
2 See Second wave of COVID-19 pandemic in India: Barriers to effective governmental response, Sujita Kumar Kar et al., The Lancelet, 29 May 2021.
3 See Statista:
4 Ibid. Also see Indian Express: 3 lakh Covid-19 deaths in India: How far is the second wave peak?

5 See BBC: Covid-19: Has India's deadly second wave peaked?
6 See The Print: Delta variant behind India’s 2nd wave, 7 strains circulating in & around Varanasi, study finds.


Subregional Office for South and South-West Asia +91 11 3097 3700 [email protected]