Manindra Agrawal, one of the committee members appointed by the central government on COVID-19, said as many as 1.3 billion people, which is almost half of the total population of India, could have been infected with the coronavirus by February next year.

So far, as many as 7.55 million coronavirus cases have been reported in India. The country is the second most affected by the deadly virus, only behind the United States in the number of total infections. The panel chief had earlier said that the pandemic hit the peak in mid-September, with 61,390 average cases on a daily basis.

“Our mathematical model estimates that around 30% of the population is currently infected and it could go up to 50% by February,” Agrawal, who is also an Indian Institute for Technology Kanpur professor, said as quoted by Reuters.

The estimate made by the committee is much higher than the serological surveys done by the central government. According to Agrawal, serological surveys are not absolutely correct as they study a small sample size of the population. Virologists, scientists and other health experts in the committee rely on a mathematical model for estimation.

“We have evolved a new model which explicitly takes into account unreported cases, so we can divide infected people into two categories – reported cases and infections that do not get reported,” he said.

The committee has warned that the infection could spike by up to 2.6 million in one month if masks and social distancing were ignored during the upcoming festive season.