Medical workers collecting samples for Covid-19 in New Delhi | Representational Image | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint
Medical workers collecting samples for Covid-19 in New Delhi | Representational Image | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint
Text Size:

Lav Agarwal, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, informed us Monday that “the Covid-19 curve in India is relatively flat as of now and if work is done collectively, then the peak may never come.” Ironically, Monday was India’s worst day of the coronavirus pandemic — with nearly 4,000 new cases and close to 200 deaths. But what does Lal Agarwal mean with “relatively flat”? Should we assume that by doing more of the same, we are at the brink of controlling the coronavirus pandemic in India?

As we shall soon see, the Narendra Modi government is flat-out misleading the public. In a crisis, transparency acts like a balm. Obfuscation and opacity can have catastrophic consequences.

There have been several news reports and opinion pieces of late that have fretted about India’s growing Covid-19 case load. Their argument is the opposite of the Modi government’s assertion. They point out that new cases are increasing and claims about flattening of the curve appear premature. On the other hand, the Modi government contends that it’s now taking longer for the number of Covid-19 cases to double, which means that the curve is “relatively flat” and the government’s lockdown policies have succeeded.

If only it were that simple. Using data collected by Our World in Data, an Oxford University and Global Change Data Lab initiative, we can compare India’s Covid-19 trajectory to that of other countries. After all, when using the term “relatively flat”, it makes sense to look for comparisons. Since this is a global crisis, comparisons with other countries are appropriate.


Also read: Can India risk a controlled epidemic after lockdown ends? It will depend on these factors


Indian results are worrisome

Before crunching the numbers, I made certain assumptions. First, I assumed that the official numbers are accurate. So, if India’s coronavirus testing is very limited or South Korea’s is extensive, I assume that their official numbers represent the reality. Second, in assessing the impact of the lockdown, I assume that each country imposed restrictions on 25 March, the first day of India’s lockdown. Obviously, some countries imposed restrictions earlier while others imposed them later. Some others did not impose restrictions at all. Third, I assume that all lockdowns are of a similar nature. Of course, the reality is that India’s lockdown is considered one of the severest in the world. Finally, I only reviewed data for 51 countries that had at least 5,000 Covid-19 cases by 3 May.

If we calculate the average daily growth rate of coronavirus cases reported in each of these 51 countries from 25 March to 3 May, India’s growth rate is sixth highest (11.6 per cent). Russia tops the chart at 15.2 per cent while the world is at 5.5 per cent. One can argue that it takes time for lockdown measures to take effect and we should not start the clock on 25 March.

To that end, I reviewed the number of new Covid-19 cases from 15 April to 3 May. India’s average daily growth rate for that period is 7.2 per cent (11th place). Bangladesh tops the charts at 12.8 per cent and the world average is 3.1 per cent. These numbers suggest an improvement for India but if you take into account factors such as the draconian nature of India’s nationwide lockdown and less restrictive regimes in other countries, India’s results are worrisome.


Also read: Modi got all the credit for lockdown. Now, he wants states to share risk of unlocking India


Modi govt’s bogus claims

What then does “relatively flat” mean? In the context of Covid-19, some countries have definitely flattened their coronavirus curves. Germany, which imposed restrictions on 23 March, saw average daily growth rates below 1.5 per cent. In South Korea and Australia, the average daily growth is below 0.5 per cent. India’s 7.2 per cent daily is nowhere close to what these other countries have achieved. At best, one could argue that India is bending the curve.

What of the assertions promoted by the Modi government (initially by the BJP) that without the lockdown and containment measures, India would have recorded 8.2 lakh cases by 15 April? This is where we should truly worry about the competence of our government. To get to 8.2 lakh cases on 15 April from 24 March (492 cases), the average daily growth rate had to be 40 per cent. No nation in my sample of 51 countries recorded that type of growth. Russia was the highest at 19 per cent. Of course, Russia had imposed restrictions but Sweden had not and its case growth was much lower at 7 per cent for the same period.

What our overzealous government bureaucrats, surely at the prodding of their political bosses, had not accounted for was what we call a “base effect”. As the number of cases increases, it becomes harder to maintain high growth rates. Going from 10 to 20 cases is easier than from 10,000 to 20,000. Basically, the Modi government was making a bogus argument to extol the virtues of the lockdown.


Also read: Slowing infection, better recovery but mixed bag in states: What India gained from lockdown


Wasted lockdown 

Now to the really bad news. Two assumptions for my calculations are not realistic. First, India is still testing at extremely low rates. Of the 67 countries for which I reviewed data from 30 April, India ranked 57th in terms of testing per 1,000 people. Around the world, we are finding that increased testing rates are leading to confirmation of more Covid-19 cases. Simply put, we cannot assume that India’s numbers are as credible as that of South Korea’s. Second, we cannot assume, as I did, that all lockdowns are identical. India’s is far more draconian than in much of the world. Yet, India’s case load is growing faster than in most countries.

Prime Minister Modi had justified the imposition of the nationwide lockdown by saying that it was necessary “to break the chain of infection”. But that was never really going to happen. However, what many, myself included, hoped for was that the government would use this time to develop a strategy for the inevitable exit, given that India’s circumstances differ greatly from those of wealthier nations. Having paid dearly for six weeks of lockdown, is India in a significantly better position now than it was on 24 March to mitigate the worst impacts of this crisis? I don’t believe so. For now, we are getting a more colourful blunt instrument than at the start of the lockdown, a splash of orange and green sprinkled around a country that is bleeding red… relatively speaking.

Salman Soz, formerly with the World Bank, is Deputy Chairman of the All India Professionals’ Congress (AIPC). Views are personal.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.

But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.

ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.

Support Our Journalism

22 Comments Share Your Views

22 COMMENTS

  1. I m sorry but I will not believe this data
    Their seems no neutrality in the report,
    What I only understood is that writer is just anti Modi!

  2. The comments really show that IT cell has no work evermore apart from commenting and whataboutery. Foul cries and rhetoric don’t solve a problem, and it will be more evident in coming days.
    Do you even remember, Modi Ji’s brainchild Niti Aayog? If you see their “prediction” on 23rd April, it shows by end of Lockdown 3.0/mid May new cases will be tending towards ZERO. In reality if we test double, new cases will be also likely to be double. Now the only resort to show cases are going down is to conduct less testing.
    While India has almost certain “natural” conditions to slow the virus spread (read long hot and humid summer), still the incompetent state and central govt did what was easiest, without doing “actual” things. It is no rocket science that India just can’t “afford” a lockdown more than 2 months at maximum. We were sitting ducks during Lockdown 1.o with practically no testing. Does anyone remember a Pune based laboratory claiming 1 Lakh test kit production per week and can ramp up up to 4 Lakh if needed? Now anyone has a clue that how many testing kits are Make in India? We will only read “news” about so many companies are ready with their testing kits, and hundreds of institutes/labs are ready to test. What we achieved till now is sub per. If we believe Modi Ji’s “Bachan”, we will never come to know where we stand now.
    Regarding how we responded to the crisis, its pathetic to say a least, only exception being Kerala. As per central govt performance, its abysmal, as usual. Even the greatest Believer should not argue now that Modi Ji quite easily enforced a Lockdown at least with a week’s notice. Its thick and thin that its much less risky to give people time to (prepare/travel/going back home and so on) when the case was less than 500 instead 50000.
    Regarding economic remedy part, it’s again as we can expect. Which fool will call this a ‘Fiscal package”, when most of it is a mere monetary policies and selling more of India to big corporations? Now Modi Ji’s big brother Mr. Trump announced 10% of GDP, and how can he provide anything less? So pouring in the big announcements. Not even 10% of the proposed package is a spend and which can boost some demand. Liquidity crisis is not a primary concern now for banks and loan
    Now there is no point to give “Solutions” as believers demand on any critical note. As if any Bhakt has ever listened? Excuses like poor country, huge population, Modi Ji is doing best with limited resources type rhetoric will not save you until HE makes you a fooled Shahid Bhakt. Or else you can always blame it all to Corona as well. Peace!

  3. SALMAN ANEES SOZ. You are a big pessimistic. You always see problem in every solution. Puppet of Congress. The Print is itself a biased paper.Such a trash article which wasted by 15 minutes.

  4. The author has not seen the way number have gone up in other countries. India with such wide spread area and with such large density has done very well … stop being a congress spokes person… it’s people’s and gov effort…

  5. The article written by slave of congress party…The lockdown in the best way to cut the spread for India with population of 1.3 billions where mulsims dont follow the rules.

  6. What MrSoz..what type of blinde analysis for a country of 130 Crore…multy cultural…cliamatic
    …being worked in world bank u don’t have compared with China ….usa… others for the lost 45 days.. ….u should have collected much more data before coming in to Congress opinion……definatly .
    we wil stand in better position than others…

  7. How can such a gigantic population be compared to these countries? Whosoever wrote this is has not done nay research. Do not understand how does such a pathetic peice of journalism gets published anyway. All you have in your articles are anti-modi slogans and bashing him. Get down to some real work. Unworthy read.

  8. Relative flattening means relative to something. You didn’t find out relative to what, Mr Soz. You assumed there.
    Your bias is obvious in your words. That bias applied to logic will make the logic skewed.
    Yes lockdown 2.0 hasn’t had enough effect. Earlier cases were confined to cities. The Markaz cases caused spread to the smaller towns where the attendees resided. That’s the cause of the continuous rise in new cases. In spite of lockdown. Your whole article is only trying to say the Modi government is lying about the curve.
    You haven’t talked if any other influencing variables. Why?

  9. Irrespective how you look at data, the corona spread remained quite contained in India. But readers and even the editor do remember one thing with statistics one can correlation in any data to suit your views. Exactly PRINT is doing same. Bogus site bogus analysis bogus interpretation.

  10. The author is absolutely right. It is the curve relating to active cases that matters the most. It doesn’t require high mathematic skills to grasp the reality. All you require is the authentic data, which I believe is provided by the website ‘worldometer.com’ and a CAGR calculator, which is easily available on internet. India’s position is as under :
    Week No. of Compounded growth
    ended active cases rate per day (%)
    12-Mar 69
    19-Mar 170 13.74
    26-Mar 662 21.43
    02-Apr 2280 19.32
    09-Apr 5863 14.44
    16-Apr 11214 9.7
    23-Apr 17306 6.39
    30-Apr 24641 5.17
    07-May 37686 6.25

    For all major European countries this curve is showing the southward direction, which means that the active cases are declining. But for India, in the week ended 7th May,2020 the position has worsened. Total cases curve will show flattening only in the subsequent stage, when considerable decline in the active cases takes place, as number of recoveries exceed that of new infections. Can’t guess when this stage is accomplished by India.

  11. I agree with you that lockdown didn’t give the results that at least I was hoping for, but I don’t see any alternative strategy that you are suggesting should have been implemented. If you had a better plan, you should have given it earlier, in hindsight every strategy can be improved.

    • Go to Worldometer.com and you will find lot of data and graphs. For all major European countries, the active cases are now declining, but for India the curve is inexorably rising upward. Last week has been very bad for India. As against the tend of consistent decline in daily growth rates in active cases, the week ended 7th May, growth rate has gone up from 5.17% to 6.25%. Soz May be a congressman, but numbers are numbers. You can’t fight with them.

  12. Doubling times have a basis in epidemiology, base effect or not. Talking of bases, perhaps the author should venture into looking at the case loads per density of population or even per Million population of one wants to compare oneself to Germany or the US or South Korea. But ultimately the comparison should be made on the gdp per capita basis or test positivity rate. For someone talking about base effects the author conveniently ignores epidemiology to make their clearly biased point.

  13. Mr. Soz, can you kindly inform us about your friend country China- what was/is the total numbers of tests done? Have China flattened the curve?
    Since you are comparing countries? I hope you understand the basic principles of comparison.

  14. This is just another example of the “Modi sarkar” fudging data. Nothing new in this.
    Basically the epidemiological models scared the govt silly and since the PM’s personal style of being an more of an instinctive leader because of his lack of formal education rushed headlong into the lockdown without any markers for judging whether the lockdown is working or without a clear exit strategy. Again he must have believed that 3 weeks would suffice, hence all the thaali and taali and diya business was promoted enthusiastically. End of 1st lockdown should have made them realise that something was not correct and recalibrated – but backing down is again not the “sarkar’s” style so he remained committed.
    The truth of the matter is lockdown is a hard strategy to be applied selectively only in certain areas where case load is so high that there is imminent threat of collapse of the health system – elsewhere normal activities have to be carried out. Otherwise infection level will keep rising over months (as we are seeing) and the price that we are paying for a nationwide hard lockdown will lead to degradation of our economic health. The resultant chaos will be apocalyptic.
    This also brings forth another interesting aspect of leadership. Rahul will trust experts and make better choices in adverse situations but his politics will not be sharp – Mr Modi in the other hand will be politically shrewd but will make poor choices more often. The electorate will have to remember this whenever they get an opportunity to choose in future.

  15. Mr. Anees, I am not a fool to believe journalists blindly , your journalism with a bias seems to be worrisome.

  16. The ‘congress’ in your credentials is sticking out but let’s assume, like you have assumed So that many things- that you are not biased.
    Not a supporter of the government, but what you fail to take into account is our population- that poses a challenge like no other.
    When you compare it to countries like Australia, or for that matter Sweden,what you don’t talk about is the basic and the biggest difference- population density, specially in places in Mumbai where it’s close to 8lacs/km and they all stare public toilets(and might I add, These are wealthier nations than India)
    So yes, ‘relatively’ your argument is not sound and we have done a good job in controlling our numbers (even if you believe they are not accurate- which is true-numbers are flawed)
    Anyways, all your assumptions and this entire article is just an excuse of bashing someone.
    Could they have done better? 100%. Did they fall short? 100%. But stop- because you are exactly what you accuse them of.
    And in the entire article, did you suggest something To make things better? No!!
    Try doing that next time before you spread so much negativity.

  17. It’s would be great if there is disclosure of the affiliation of an individual to a political organisation in such articles. Salman Aneez Soz is a working member of the Congress article and this is a political piece rather than a academic article. To highlight such a distinction is very necessary as biased articles written by either side of the spectrum need to be classified as such by revealing the affiliation of the author in bold.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here