Covid-19: What you need to know today
India had recorded 25,594 deaths by the time it crossed a million cases; by Thursday, that number increased to 41,633, an additional 16,039 deaths in 21 days.Updated: Aug 07, 2020 05:09 IST
India crossed two million coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases on Thursday, exactly three weeks after it crossed a million cases on July 16 (according to the HT dashboard, it ended the day with 1,004,652 cases). The number of active cases on July 16 (again, according to the HT dashboard) was 343,298.
India ended Thursday with 2,022,730 cases. The number of active cases was 605,300. This means that in 21 days, the country has seen 1,018,078 new infections, and the number of active cases has increased by 262,002.
India had recorded 25,594 deaths by the time it crossed a million cases; by Thursday, that number increased to 41,633, an additional 16,039 deaths in 21 days.
No country is currently adding as many cases as India. And, at the two million mark (crossed only by the US and the Brazil before this), India’s growth rate in terms of cases is the highest . Indeed, according to five-day averages tabulated by the Johns Hopkins University, the US’s five-day average (as on August 5) is down, as is Brazil’s. In the top five countries by number of cases, only India and Colombia have five-day averages that are moving up. To be sure, the absolute numbers are still higher for the US (seven-day average of 56,966 according to the New York Times database), when compared to India (54,392) -- but only just. Brazil’s is 43,830. India’s number is set to increase even more in coming days as the virus spreads across the hinterland and the peninsula.
One reason for this is higher testing – India had tested 10,539 people per million of its population on July 16, when it crossed a million cases; on August 5, poised at 1.96 million, it had tested 16,617 people per million (testing data comes with a lag). That is just around 1.66% of the population. The US has tested 18.8% of its population and Brazil 6.3%, according to data from worldometers.info. Russia has tested 20%, South Africa 5%, and the UK 25%. Among countries with a significant number of cases, only Mexico (0.8%) has tested less of its population than India. Even Iran has tested 3%.
India needs to do more – for a start, target to test 5% of its population. This isn’t the first time I’m pushing for more tests – this column was the first to call for a million tests a day in India – and every time, I receive the same feedback from apologists for the government: India’s population is far too high; or India’s GDP is far too low. The truth is, in absolute terms, India ranks behind China, the US, and Russia, in terms of number of tests conducted.
To reach the 5% mark, India has to test roughly 32 million more people – preferably using the Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction, or RT-PCR test, which is the best way to diagnose current infections. The rapid antigen test has become popular with many state governments because it can offer tests within the hour -- as opposed to the RT-PCR tests whose results reach the subject only in 24 to 48 hours -- but it is not very accurate when it comes to identifying true negatives (some people shown to be negative for the virus in the test are actually infected), and should be used only in certain circumstances and places – in a containment zone, for instance; or in airports (where passengers can be tested before a flight).
That may seem like an impossible target (it also needs to be completed soon, perhaps 32 days, sticking to this writer’s recommendation on the number of daily tests), but India conducts many large-scale exercises that other countries would consider impossible – for instance, a universal vaccine programme that covers almost 25 million children across the country; and elections. Last year, 611 million people voted in the general elections in seven phases. In 2017, about 86 million people voted in the Uttar Pradesh state elections, again, across seven phases.
At the one million mark, I wrote a column on what India needs to do (called “A Million and a Manifesto”). That still holds, but at the two million mark, the only thing the central and state governments need to think about is testing.
P.S: While on testing, states and Union Territories that have spare capacity (Delhi definitely has it) should consider offering free tests (RT-PCR) to anyone who wants to get tested.