Covid-19: What you need to know today
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is meeting chief ministers of states for the fifth time in 51 days on Monday.
There’s exactly a week to May 17, a date that can be called either the end of the first phase of India’s graded exit from the lockdown, or the extension of the second phase of the lockdown but with the easing of some restrictions.
It’s important to understand the context in which the meeting is happening.
The number of cases in India rose to 67,085 on Sunday night, the number of deaths to 2,140, and the number of recoveries to 20,901. Recoveries crossed 20,000 on Sunday, the kind of number that needs celebration. The world over, according to worldometers.info, 98% of the currently active 2.4 million cases are mild, and only 47,565 are “serious or critical”. Anecdotal evidence from India suggests that the situation here is no different.
States with a science-based approach to dealing with Covid-19, and with reasonably good public health systems, seem to be getting the better of the disease — Kerala, with three deaths out of 505 cases may be an outlier, but even Tamil Nadu, where administrative bungling (the chief minister announced an unnecessary hard lockdown, with everything being shut, forcing thousands of people out on to the streets, trying to stock up on essentials) resulted in a spike in cases, has done well. The state saw 6,535 cases till Saturday — 526 of these were discovered on Saturday alone — but has recorded only 44 deaths thus far.
Maharashtra (22,171 cases; 832 deaths, till Sunday), Gujarat (8,195 and 493) and Madhya Pradesh (3,614 and 215) are the outliers on the other extreme. Together, the three states account for 50.6% of all cases and nearly 72% of all deaths. And Madhya Pradesh, for a state that has been hit hard by the virus, is definitely not testing enough (both Gujarat and Maharashtra are testing twice the number of people per million as Madhya Pradesh is).
In the week between May 3 and May 10, the number of Covid-19 cases in India has increased from 42,527 to 67,085, and the number of deaths from 1,393 to 2,140. The number of daily cases was more than 3,000 for four consecutive days since May 6 and exceeded 4,000 for the first time on Sunday. In the last five days (including Sunday), the number of daily deaths have exceeded 100 on all but two days. Yet, as this column has pointed out, most of cases are from a few states. On Saturday, for instance, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat accounted for two-thirds of all new cases. On Sunday, this proportion was 69%. Vast parts of the country continue to have only a few cases of Covid-19; many are completely free of the disease (or haven’t recorded any cases).
It is evident that the lockdown has not helped India flatten the curve, although there is no doubt that the number of deaths and infections would have been higher without one.
At least quantitatively, if not qualitatively, India has used this period to strengthen its health care system, and specifically prepare to deal with all aspects of Covid-19 — from testing to treatment. For instance, India is now well on its way to producing locally many RT-PCR tests, the best way of testing for the coronavirus disease.
Going by the current trend of daily cases, it is also evident that the number of cases and deaths in India will continue to rise. And collateral damage of the lockdown on the economy, on industrial activity, on businesses, big and small, and on workers of all hues, is significant.
The Prime Minister and the chief ministers must discuss ways to restart more economic and other activities even as they work towards finalising restrictions and protocols for disease hot spots that have a high concentration of cases and the most vulnerable population (people over the age of 70).
India needs to learn to live with Covid-19 for now but it needs to find a way that protects both lives and livelihoods.