Covid-19: What you need to know today
Correlation isn’t causation, but it’s interesting to note that India, Peru and Portugal have almost universal coverage of the BCG vaccine — given to children to fight tuberculosis, and which helps them build immunity to several other respiratory ailments.Updated: Apr 30, 2020 04:40 IST
India, Peru, Portugal, and Ecuador are clustered between the 15th and 20th positions in terms of the number of Covid-19 cases. The number of cases in the four countries, on Wednesday morning, was 31332, 31190, 24322, and 24258 respectively; the number of deaths, 1008, 854, 948, and 871. The corresponding death rates were 3.21%, 2.73%, 3.90%, and 3.59%. There is a wide variance in testing rates — from a low of 559 per million population in India, to 37,223 per million population in Portugal — and, of course, the countries are very different, in terms of population and economic development; yet, here they are, clustered together in terms of number of cases and deaths. (All the data is from worldometers.info).
Correlation isn’t causation, but it’s interesting to note that India, Peru and Portugal have almost universal coverage of the BCG vaccine — given to children to fight tuberculosis, and which helps them build immunity to several other respiratory ailments. Ecuador used to give its children the vaccine, but stopped it. There has been a lot of speculation, and some research on whether people who have been administered the vaccine have some level of immunity to the Sars-CoV-2 virus which causes Covid-19. Australia has started a study that will cover 4,000 health workers (who will be administered the vaccine) to assess whether there is a relationship between the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin injection and the rate of Covid-19 infection.
How does one read the death numbers in India? The country crossed 1,000 deaths on Tuesday and on Wednesday night, the number stood at 1,076, which translated into a death rate (as a proportion of those infected) of 3.25%. This works out to 0.9 deaths per million population. Any which way you look at the number, it is low. Sweden, where the number of cases stood at 19,621 on Tuesday (2,355 deaths) presents an interesting comparison. The death rate (as a proportion of those infected) in Sweden is over 12%; per million of population it is 230. Yet, because it did not lock down (even school terms continued) — it did issue guidelines on social distancing, but left the enforcement to its people and businesses — the country likes to see its response to Covid-19 as a success (and indeed, this is evident in some of the coverage regarding Sweden’s strategy in dealing with the pandemic). At this point in time, at least to this writer, those numbers do not indicate a success at all; in the trade-off between lives and livelihoods, Sweden seems to have swung too much towards the latter.
Sweden, an entire country, has a population of a little over 10 million.
Dharavi, Mumbai’s biggest slum, has a population of around 850,000, 8.5% of Sweden’s. The slum has a population density of around 354,167 people per sq km (it is spread across 2.4 sq km). On Wednesday, the number of cases of Covid-19 in the shanty town, which is also home to thousands of small businesses, and where almost all residents use communal toilets, touched 344(18 deaths). That should worry the local corporation and the Maharashtra government (see page 6).
Anecdotally, across Indian cities such as Ahmedabad, Indore, Jaipur, Agra, Delhi, and Mumbai, clusters of infections have appeared in neighbourhoods that are crowded and congested, and which are, in most cases, not exactly the cleanest. The link between hygiene and health was always known, but many people chose not to act on it. The Covid-19 pandemic will no longer give them that choice — and the onus is as much on municipal corporation and city officials as it is on the residents of these boroughs.