Covid-19: What you need to know today
As India nears the 10,000 cases mark — Covid-19 infections touched 9,191 on Sunday, and there have been 326 deaths so far — it is clear that the virus is still following its own trajectory in India. Many scientists expected that this would change at some point. It hasn’t (and to celebrate, this column is going to be repetitive, but with fresh numbers).
Till March 23, there were 499 Covid-19 cases in India. The number rose to 2,543 till April 2. On April 12, the count stood at 9,191. The death toll rose from 10 to 72 to 326 in this period.
Consider the US. Till March 8, there were 541 cases in the US. The number rose to 9,296 till March 18 and 124,256 till March 28. On Sunday, the count was 545,830. The death toll rose from 22 to 150 and then 2,222. On Sunday, it stood at 21,474.
Or Italy. Till February 27, the number of cases in Italy was 593. This rose to 5,061 till March 7 and 26,062 till March 17. The death toll rose from 17 to 233 to 2,503 in this period. On Sunday, the count was a total of 156,363 cases and 19,899 deaths.
There is no need to get into the math — the Indian curve is a lot shallower, in terms of both infections and deaths. One explanation is that India is not testing as much as some of these countries have done.
Italy has tested 15,935 per million of its population; the US 8,138; and India 137. To be sure, both the US and Italy were laggards in testing to begin with, and then aggressively ramped up as they realised the danger posed by the pandemic.
All the numbers, other than the India tally as of Sunday evening are from the website worldometers.info
The latest Indian numbers are from HT’s dashboard.
It is a fact that India has tested far too few people (the numbers will increase once the rapid test kits arrive). This could mean that there are a lot of infected people out there. Many of them may be symptomatic, but at least some will require hospitalisation, advanced care, perhaps in critical care units, and, some of them may even die. Anecdotally at least, there’s no sudden surge in non-Covid mortalities in India that suggests that the disease is silently stalking people in the country’s hinterland.
Clearly, India’s trajectory is mystifying and needs deeper scientific research. This column has previously pointed to at least three themes being studied by scientists — the impact of temperature and humidity on Sars-Cov-2, the virus that causes Covid-19; the strain of the virus; and the relationship, if any, between immunity to the coronavirus disease and the BCG vaccine.
The coverage of the vaccine is almost universal in India, and Indian children have been given it since the late 1940s. There’s more anecdotal evidence about the seeming immunity of those given the BCG vaccine to Covid-19. Spain (163,027 infections 16,606 deaths and 7,593 per million tested) gives the vaccine to children in only one region. The vaccine is universally given in Portugal (15,987 infections, 470 deaths, and 15,966 tests per million). The results of a large experiment involving frontline health care workers in Australia are awaited (they have been given the BCG vaccine).
The findings will be closely studied — especially in India, where the government is working to find a way to protect lives as well as livelihoods affected by the ongoing lockdown.
That won’t be easy — a quarter of India’s cases are from its two most important cities from the perspective of business, Delhi and Mumbai. Gurugram, home to the local HQs of many Fortune 500 companies, has several hot spots too. It will be a while before it is business as usual in all three.