New Delhi: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has claimed that the country has handled the coronavirus pandemic much better than India through the government’s ‘smart lockdown’.
In episode 585 of ‘Cut the Clutter’, ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta analysed whether Pakistan has actually been more successful than India in controlling the pandemic.
When “dumb data’ on the number of cases and deaths per million from Pakistan is multiplied by 6.5, to equalise it with India’s population, we find that India has 22 times more cases than Pakistan, said Gupta
Similarly, deaths due to Covid in India are 2.5 times more than Pakistan, he added
“Looking at this data, it seems that Pakistan is handling it enormously better than India”, he said.
Bangladesh, which has a sizeable population of 16.3 crore, also seems to have done better than India.
However, all these conclusions are based on “dumb data”, but when one “smartifies” the data, a more complex image appears, Gupta said.
What smart data indicates
The first smart set of data to look at is the testing record. An article in The Economist quotes epidemiologist Ramanan Laxminarayan from Princeton University as saying that if one compares Pakistan with Uttar Pradesh, both are not testing and this is why both have low number of cases.
Looking at the smart data, it is found that Pakistan has tested 16,419 people per million and Bangladesh has tested 12,059 per million. Meanwhile, India has tested 57,810 people per million.
Therefore, the ‘don’t test, won’t find’ principle applies in the case of both Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Uttar Pradesh — a state with poor social indicators and a comparable population to Pakistan — has tested three times more than Pakistan. Even Bihar is testing four times more than Pakistan.
“So even the poorest of our states are testing several times more than Pakistan”, said Gupta.
The next level of smart data is the number of positive cases. Pakistan has 3,14,616 cases and India has recorded 66,23,815 cases, which is almost 22 times that of the former.
UP has 4,14,466 cases and despite conducting three times more tests than Pakistan, it just has 25 per cent more cases than the neighbouring country.
Similarly, Bihar is testing five times as much as Bangladesh, but has almost the same number of cases as Bangladesh.
And this data does not support the ‘don’t test, won’t find’ principle, said Gupta. Uttar Pradesh has been testing almost three times more than Pakistan but their total cases are almost similar.
In terms of cases per million, Uttar Pradesh is at 1,842, while Pakistan has 1,420 cases.
‘Nobody should believe the conquered virus’
The obvious questions from skeptics may arise over who keeps count on the people dying of Covid in UP and Bihar. But we are talking about infection fatality rate, not case fatality rate. Infection fatality rate estimates the proportion of deaths among all infected individuals.
The fatalities that India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are counting is the case fatality rate, which is the ratio of the number of deaths divided by the number of confirmed positive cases.
“The government of India has made the central Covid database accessible to people and is centrally controlled. If somebody who has been identified as Covid positive, and dies due to it, maybe one or two such cases can be hidden. But you cannot do it on a larger scale”, noted Gupta. Therefore, it is difficult to fudge with the fatality figures of identified cases, he added.
The Economist article estimated that there are some demographic reasons why Pakistan’s numbers may be better than India’s.
Pakistan’s population is younger than India’s by about four to five years. Pakistan’s average life expectancy is 67, which is about two and a half to three years lower than India’s, which also gives Pakistan a demographic advantage.
But the article suggests that Pakistan used its polio machinery, and called in the Army.
There are some similarities one can find between Pakistan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Pakistan is much more like a rural or small town country. As UP’s data looks worse than Bihar, it could also be because Bihar is less urbanised than UP and the virus loves proximity, said Gupta.
Nonetheless, nobody should believe they have conquered the virus, and should not celebrate, he added.
Watch the latest episode of CTC here: