India crossed the 30,000 case-count for Covid-19. On Tuesday night, the country’s tally stood at 31,329cases, 1,007dead, and 7,761recovered.
This comes exactly a week after it crossed the 20,000 mark. On April 21, the count was 20,004 cases, 644 dead, and 3,778 recovered.
The country crossed the 10,000 mark on April 13; the count on that day was 10,444 cases, 355 dead and 1,191 recovered.
The number of cases in India continues to grow, but the curve is not, by any stretch, an exponential one.
India has been testing more — 716,733 tests as on Tuesday — but the testing protocol is still skewed towards direct and indirect contacts of infected people. Still, the increased testing has already helped reduce the proportion of those testing positive to those tested (by around 0.6 percentage points, according to NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant). That is bound to happen as the number of tests increases.
The actual proportion of people infected is likely to be even lower than the current 4.1% (a number put out by the NITI CEO) — just as the actual number of people infected by the Sars-Cov-2 virus, which causes Covid-19, is likely to be much higher. Indeed, with almost seven out every 10 people infected being asymptomatic (as of a week ago, according to the Indian Council of Medical Research), it would be surprising if it weren’t. Still, no one in the government, NITI, or the Indian Council of Medical Research will accept this — perhaps because they think it makes the country look bad.
As this column has repeatedly pointed out (citing worldometers.info ), 97% of the cases in the world are mild and India is no exception.
The real number to worry about is the fatality rate as measured by the proportion of those who die to those testing positive, and also the overall number of deaths. Given that the actual number of cases in India is definitely higher than the reported number, the country’s fatality rate is certain to be lower than the 3.17% it was on Monday night. This number is much lower than the global fatality rate of 6.9%, although that proportion is skewed by the high death rates (all double digits) in countries such as Spain, Italy, France, the UK, and Iran. Even in the US, which accounts for almost a third of all cases, the number is a high 5.6%. To be sure, the same logic that applies to India, applies to these countries too — their actual fatality rates will be much lower.
While it’s important to keep fatalities down to a minimum, this writer isn’t suggesting that we stop looking at the number of cases. Given that Covid-19 infects and kills in clusters, it is imperative that India gets its response right in regions with a high prevalence of the disease. On Tuesday, NITI pointed out that around 60% of Covid-19 cases in India are from 15 districts, with seven accounting for 47%. Three cities, Delhi, Mumbai and Ahmedabad account for a third.
India’s ability to deal with the situation in these three cities will prepare it for the challenge ahead — at least till a vaccine for the virus is discovered (the Oxford candidate continues to make good progress and if the trial is successful, the world could have a vaccine by September). A team of Chinese scientists has said that it believes the Sars-CoV-2 virus will not vanish the way the Sars-CoV virus, which caused Sars, did, but return in waves, much like the common flu.