Polls and Covid-19: 5 regions, 5 big spikes
In the four states and one Union territory that went to the polls in the latest round of assembly elections, Covid-19 cases started rising much later than the rest of the country, but a steeper curve in these regions has now pushed them ahead in terms of new cases per capita, shows data.
These numbers are as important, if not more than the election results themselves -- and highlight both the folly of holding elections without proper protocols (the Election Commission’s role, for much of the duration of the campaign was restricted to guidelines on this, and involved no monitoring whatsoever, something that earned the body harsh words from the Madras high court) in the midst of the pandemic, as well as the immediate challenge facing the new governments of these regions.
In all five – Assam, Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal – the seven-day average of new cases has increased at a rate more than twice that of the national average in the past week, shows an analysis by HT.
To be sure, the key factor behind the delayed surge in the five regions with elections appears to be that daily tests there lagged significantly compared to the rest of the country till the first week of April (till elections in all but West Bengal were wrapped up). The West Bengal polls continued in eight phases in all, till April 29 -- their sheer length is inexplicable given the backdrop of Covid-19, and the Election Commission has understandably come under criticism for that.
Click here for full coverage on elections
In order to give the two sets of regions (those with elections and the rest of India) a common base for comparison, figures used in the analysis have all been normalised for their respective populations – case and testing numbers are per million residents of the respective sets of regions.
In terms of daily infections, regions with elections were reporting a seven-day average of 17 new infections per million residents a day for the week ending March 1. This number was slightly lower in the rest of the country (10 new cases a day per million population).
India’s first Covid wave bottomed out on February 11, and started surging at alarming levels through the middle of March. In the latter period, cases in the rest of the country started overtaking the regions with elections.
By the end of March, non-electoral regions in the country were reporting more than 2.5 times as many new infections than those going to the polls (52 new cases per million against 21 for week ending March 31). But a massive surge of new infections was reported in the regions with elections by the second week of April, which sent the trajectory soaring.
By the end of April, areas with elections were reporting more cases than the rest of the country – 280 new infections a day per million residents against 273 in the rest of the country (Chart 1).
This trend is mimicked very closely in the rate of daily tests in these two sets of regions. At the start of March, the two groups were nearly identically placed in terms of daily tests per million residents.
By mid-March, as cases surged in the rest of the country, testing saw a near-continuous increase (with the exception of a small blip towards the end of March) as well. The five regions with elections, however, only picked up testing after the first week of April. Primarily this increase in testing only occurs after April 6, the day when elections had been wrapped up in all regions except West Bengal, which was to see four more phases of polling.
In absolute numbers, the seven-day average of new Covid-19 cases has gone up more than twice that of the national average in the past week in the four states and Puducherry. The seven-day average of new infections in India for the week ending Saturday is 372,005. This number was 309,855 last Saturday – meaning it has seen a 20% week-on-week increase in the country.
The states that went to the polls have seen at least twice this rate of growth. Even Tamil Nadu, which has seen the lowest increase in new cases among these regions, has seen twice this growth rate (40%) in the last week. Cases in Kerala have grown 47% in the past week, in Puducherry new infections have gone up 50% in the same time period.
The two eastern states – West Bengal and Assam – have seen their cases rise most from this group, 54% and 76% respectively. Assam’s health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma claimed on camera that there was no Covid in his state when asked why he was not sporting a mask. The numbers tell a different story.