A third wave of the coronavirus pandemic in India may reach its peak around October, a committee set up by the Union home ministry has said, The Times of India reported on Monday. The committee, set up under the National Institute of Disaster Management, also warned about the lack of paediatric facilities in case a large number of children get affected.

The experts said children could be affected as severely as adults, particularly because they remain unvaccinated. They stressed on prioritising vaccination against the virus for children with co-morbidities and those with special needs.

India’s drug regulators have approved Zydus Cadila’s ZyCoV-D vaccine for children above 12 years of age. However, the vaccine is yet to be rolled out.

Paediatric facilities – doctors and equipment like ventilators and ambulances – are nowhere close to what may be required in case a large number of children become infected,” the National Institute of Disaster Management said in its report, according to NDTV. The study titled ‘Third Wave Preparedness: Children Vulnerability and Recovery’ has been submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office.

To tackle the situation if children get more severely infected than adults during the third wave, the committee recommended “a holistic home care model, immediate increase in paediatric medical capacities and prioritising mental health issues among children”.

Wards in healthcare facilities could be built in such a way that guardians of Covid positive children could safely be accommodated too, the experts have suggested.

States prepare for third wave

Several states in India have begun to prepare for a third wave, with a special focus on protecting children.

The Uttar Pradesh government plans to identify and vaccinate parents of children below 10 years. Jharkhand has prepared a manual detailing its treatment plans and management of children during the third wave, and has estimated that it would require over 6,000 beds for them.

In Karnataka, the government has set up a task force to create additional pediatric wards and Covid care centres for children across districts.

The NIDM report referred to a micro-district strategy proposed by the World Health Organisation to ensure schools can be reopened with minimal risk of transmission. It added that children are not a homogeneous group and hence one policy will not cover different groups of children.

Uptick in R value

While predicting the third wave, the experts referred to an uptick in the ‘R’ value, or reproduction rate of the virus.

The R value measures how many people are being infected by one Covid-positive person on an average. For instance, a value between 0.7 and 0.9 means that every 10 Covid-positive people will pass on the infection to seven or nine others.

The number of infections keeps rising if the R value is more than 1. If the value declines, the infection will eventually stop spreading because there will not be enough new cases for the outbreak to continue.

As of Monday morning, India’s R value stood at 0.94, according to NDTV.

“Preparedness is the key, learning from the past two waves,” Santosh Kumar, coordinator of the committee of experts and professor, head of governance and public policy at NIDM, told The Times of India. “We need to take proactive actions now in anticipation of the third wave.”

He added: “States may start enhancing paediatric Covid care facilities for treatment, ICU, paediatric ambulance, medicine, including paediatricians.”

In its recommendations for general preparedness for the third wave, the committee said the pace of vaccination needs to increase. India has administered over 58 crore vaccine doses so far. Of this, a little over 13 crore people have received both shots.

India on Monday morning recorded 25,072 coronavirus cases, pushing the country’s infection tally to 3,24,49,306 since the pandemic broke out in January last year. With 389 deaths, the toll mounted to 4,34,756.

Monday’s case tally is the lowest count in 160 days, according to the Centre. It is also 19% lower than Sunday’s count of 30,948.