A combination picture shows people holding their mobile phones, showing images of their relatives who died due to the coronavirus disease, as they pose for a photo taken between September 22, 2020 and September 28 2020, in various cities of India.(REUTERS)
A combination picture shows people holding their mobile phones, showing images of their relatives who died due to the coronavirus disease, as they pose for a photo taken between September 22, 2020 and September 28 2020, in various cities of India.(REUTERS)

Covid-19: What you need to know today

All lives, even ordinary ones, are extraordinary in their own way – and not just to the family and friends of the deceased. Each of the 100,000 is a life lost – and each (it’s important to acknowledge this because of our fatalism) could have been saved.
By R Sukumar | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON OCT 03, 2020 03:35 AM IST

The death toll from the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) crossed 100,000 on Friday. In some ways, this is just a number, and perhaps an underestimate at that. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that every country in the world has undercounted the number of dead from the viral pandemic – not deliberately all the time, but simply because it is tough to keep count. India is no exception – Dispatch 158, on September 15, estimated (based on an assumption on the infection fatality rate) that India, at the time of that writing, had seen between 110,000 and 131,500 deaths, significantly higher than the 80,000 that were officially recorded. Still, 100,000 is a milestone even if not a happy one. India is now the third country in the world, after the US and Brazil, to have deaths in the six-digits.

Perhaps because of India’s vast population, or our almost automatic acceptance of fatalism, we find it easy to anonymise deaths and reduce them to mere numbers. We are inured to headlines such as “45 dead in boat accident” or “Floods claim 140 lives”. These headlines are made up, but they will likely be familiar to most people. Sometimes we stop and read a piece that’s extremely tragic or horrific, but then we move on (as, indeed, many believe that we should).

The deaths of famous people are different – because suddenly, the death is no longer a mere number. It is a person, a famous person, an artist or a singer who perhaps touches our lives every day (as many do long after they are gone). These are extraordinary people, who lived extraordinary lives. But all lives, even ordinary ones, are extraordinary in their own way – and not just to the family and friends of the deceased. Each of the 100,000 is a life lost – and each (it’s important to acknowledge this because of our fatalism) could have been saved.

Old and young, men and women, the fit and the not-so, rich and poor, famous and unknown – the virus has killed over 100,000 people in the country (India’s death toll on Friday night was 100,896). Policemen (and policewomen), doctors, politicians, teachers, farmers, couriers, pensioners, businesspeople, students, cab drivers, journalists, priests – the virus has taken a toll on people from every walk of life. And it will continue to.

Among infectious diseases, tuberculosis and respiratory infections still kill more in India, as do many so-called lifestyle ailments such as diabetes, but these comparisons do nothing to reduce the grimness of the Covid-19 death toll. Since September 5 (and till October 1), India has recorded fewer than 1,000 deaths on only three days. The current seven-day average of daily cases in India is around 80,000; at the current case fatality rate of 1.5%, this will translate into 1,200 deaths a day in the next few weeks. In effect, every day that sees the addition of 80,000 cases is actually foretelling 1,200 deaths. This is one of the three numbers India’s health administrators need to focus on – instead, there’s a lot of talk of the recovery rate (which does not make sense because if the case fatality rate is only 1.5%, we can expect 98.5% of those infected to recover over time). The two other metrics the administrators need to keep an eye on are: the number of tests (and within that, the number of RT-PCR tests); and the number of active cases.

India crossed 50,000 deaths (50,084) on August 15, when it had 2.5 million cases (2,589,208). It crossed 100,000 deaths on October 2, when it had 6.5 million cases. It has added roughly 50% of the deaths it has seen to date in the same time that it has added around 62% of the cases. In the same period, the world has added 38% of the cases it has seen to date, and 24% of deaths.

An even better comparison would be to see the proportion of cases the world has added in the time it has seen roughly half the deaths to date. It crossed 500,000 deaths on June 25, when it had 9.6 million cases. It crossed a million deaths on Tuesday (by which time the number of cases had grown to 33.38 million). In effect, world had added 70% of the cases to date in the same period in which it added half the deaths to date.

In September, India added 33,273 deaths (33.7% of its deaths till September 30) and 2.6 million cases (41.56% of its cases), for a case fatality rate of 1.28%. In the same period, the US added 1.2 million cases (16.25% of its cases till September 30) and 23,917 deaths (11.3% of its deaths) to its tally for a September case fatality rate of around 2%.

The good news for India: the case fatality rate of 1.28% is not very far from the 1% the government wants to touch. The bad news: September saw one of every three deaths from Covid-19 the country has seen so far.

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A BMC medical staffer administering a Covid-19 vaccine to a beneficiary at JJ Hospital in Mumbai, India, on Monday, March 1, 2021.(Anshuman Poyrekar/HT Photo)
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