Representational Image | A doctor collects sample from a person for Covid-19 testing | Photo: Shrikant Singh/ANI
Representational Image | A doctor collects sample from a person for Covid-19 testing | Photo: Shrikant Singh/ANI
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It seems inevitable but it’s still disappointing. India’s Covid-19 story is being shaped through a partisan lens. How you see the progress of coronavirus depends on who you speak to or turn to for your information.

Doubling rate Vs daily infections

Let’s start from the basic numbers. Is India managing to control the coronavirus or is the pandemic getting out of hand? Depending on which indicator you look at, the answer can change. So, on the one hand, the number of new cases is growing steadily. The rate of growth is picking up too; we took 69 days to get to the first 5,000 cases, then just seven more days to get to 10,000 cases, and then just five more days to get to 15,000 cases.

Graphic by Soham Sen | ThePrint
Graphic by Soham Sen | ThePrint
Graphic by Soham Sen | ThePrint
Graphic by Soham Sen | ThePrint

However, on the other hand, there is the “doubling rate” — the number of days taken for the total number of cases to double, indicating the speed of the spread of the infection. Earlier on in the pandemic the doubling rate of cases was falling rapidly, but it has now grown and is closer to the one week mark. It is unsurprising then that this number is being used the most by the Right wing to describe the coronavirus pandemic while opponents of the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi point out that as numbers grow, doubling times will reduce.

So what is the truth? Both sets of numbers taken together add up to a whole. The light at the end of the tunnel will only emerge when that first indicator — daily new infections — starts to fall, but the doubling time shows that while the pandemic is not receding in India, its severity has not yet reached the levels of other countries where it grew fast.

Also Read: India’s testing strategy is right, we have increased the numbers significantly: AIIMS chief

Left wants ‘right’ testing

Then there is the question of Covid-19 testing. Positions on this issue have become so ossified now that they can be crudely described in this way — the Left believes that we need much more testing and without it, the real numbers will not be known, while the Right believes that we are testing enough for our level of socio-economic development, and our testing numbers prove that. Here too, there are two sets of data we could look at — the share of tests proportionate to population that show India is testing much fewer than other countries, or the testing positivity rate indicator, which shows that despite conservative testing, India’s tests are picking up much fewer positives than in the US or UK.

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Again, both these indicators matter. We do seem to need more testing, particularly to identify asymptomatic patients, but it is also a fact that there isn’t enough evidence to suggest we are currently missing a large number of positive population. The ICMR’s recent study, which found the presence of the novel coronavirus among patients with Severe Acute Respiratory Illness (SARI), is the closest there is to the evidence of the wider spread of the infection, but this group has already been included in India’s testing strategy.

Also Read: Why there is a big debate over accuracy and results of Covid anti-body tests

Answers sans evidence

And finally, there is the issue of data reliability. India’s own official authorities have found that just 22 per cent of the registered deaths are medically certified, and multiple studies conducted by researchers at different state institutions have shown that doctors routinely misdiagnose the cause of death. Yet, calls for some caution in assuming that the current death toll fully captures the real picture are met with howls of protest from the Right. To question the numbers, it follows, is to want there to be bad news.

The same is true for a host of other vital questions. How many Covid-19 deaths did the lockdown prevent? Over 8.2 lakh, says the government, but without any valid epidemiological modelling. Was it safe to prescribe hydroxychloroquine as a prophylaxis to doctors? Yes, says the government, but without much evidence.

These are all questions for which an unbiased answers will be vital and even life-saving, as the pandemic progresses. But if we continue to look at all data from either a Left or a Right lens, we will be unable to see the whole truth and act on it, even if it’s out in the open.

The author is a Chennai-based data journalist. Views are personal.

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19 Comments Share Your Views


  1. looks collisions of figures of illusions . one side appears to paid by pharma lobby eyeing financial windfalls from testing , other want GHAR bandi to ease to start business

  2. You see, immunity is a function of exposure. Exposure both to pathogens and a reasonably unhygienic environment. The infectious disease especially of the respiratory system and lungs also have a lot to do with cold climate and lack of sunshine, a big role also being played by vitamin D one gets from sun exposure which poor and middle class in India have in plenty. So, conditions in India are not conducive to widespread respiratory disease expansion in India.
    So the lockdown decision as hasty as it was has been a faulty decision destroying our economy in the process without any disease containment benefits. To embellish my viewpoint, I will like to draw attention to the previous outbreaks like bird flu,, swine flu, SARS I, Nipah, Ebola, camel flu, etc. All of which failed to take off much in India.

  3. Even if new patients data can be hidden by state governments, over ell deaths can’t be hidden

    It is a fact that our burial grounds and cemetries are not overloaded
    No extra deaths have been reported from these places and this can’t be hidden by any govt

    The reduction in noncovid deaths also may be a contribting factor. Less accidents, less alcohol related deaths, less homicides

    It’s time for cautious optimism
    Not pessimist approach
    Just as every thing in life is not black and white
    People or govts aren’t all right or left oriented

    Left oriented govt in Kerala did well not because of its ideology but because of the people on the ground who are educated, disciplined and listening to the govt apparatus, not essentially Their CM

    WB is doing not very well despite having no ideology govt
    Similarly right ideology govt in MP is unable to cope up as well as it’s counterpart in karnataka or Goa

    But doomsayers and people which seem to long for the old lost state of “left or centre left parties governance ” Will be disappointed with overall resilience of this country
    The seed if this feeling lies in discreet covert feeling of amusememnt about why the country isn’t crumbling in toto and why the state govts aren’t caught pants down in their intention and resolve to fight unitedly with the center and then they can say”” Ser we told you
    It was 45% voters mistake if not bringing back the old cooterie state to power

  4. I am very sorry to say that our writers are always try to highlight the negative side and not the positive side. They try to find faults, loopholes to satisfy themselves and their masters. It has become the tradition of our writers to write the things as their masters wishes. Tragedy of India.

  5. Government data cannot be used in any reliable way to build any models. Not in normal times (take under weight kids or malnutrition figures from central India) and in times of a crisis with huge political ramifications, quite certainly not. Left, right and the middle path (like this article) will all add up to zero predictability due to the nature of data, and to some extent, the simplistic models deployed.

  6. The alternate day rise in numbers is either two different starins replicating at different rates or a bit statistical wizardry in reporting tests.

  7. This article shows that it is very easy to get lost in statistics. As a lay person I consider thatthe pandemic is under control in India for the simple reason that for a populous country with 136 crore people,total positives is well below Rs.30K and dealths still below 800. That is vastly superior position compared to European countries and USA who fell for WHO’s “test, test, test” mantra and are still losing several hundred lives every day. Give it a thought and put politcs aside for a while.

  8. For a country of our size actions taken have been quick and effective. It is not fair to degrade the efforts put in just because you don’t like the PM.

    • Website figures updated quite often and the figures around 5 to 10% higher side. It shows government not transparent. Especially they don’t analyse the PM state figures in open. Gujarat recovery /death figures are really astonishing.

  9. By harping on left and right, perhaps the Print is overlooking its own tendency of looking at every issue as bipolar. By doing so, it perhaps wants to establish itself as more objective amongst all. There is no such thing as objectivity anymore and all the pillars it reclined on have fallen to dust. Polarities if they do exist are not left or right but whether we must relax or err on the side of caution. When facing a pandemic there is a need to be ready for the worst. That alone can reassure people under a lockdown.

  10. Obviously any government would like not to set off alarm bells and thus moderate the actual numbers. Similarly, any opposition will like to contest ans ask for proof. In the present road-roller majority of the ruling party, they will never care for the questions of the opposition. Hence as far as are concerned, better to read these and forget. No point in putting our mind. The most important and oldest question is yet to be answered by the rulers on “Why and who delayed the lock-down till March-24th for those crucial 46 days (allowing 6 days for people to go back to their natives and families, after W HO warned of the pandemic question on January-30th. Ultimately this is the root cause and as a country we have to blame only ourselves and curse our fate

  11. Left , Congress and the media mostly mouthpieces in English want desperately India to fail in the fight against Covid 19; more Indians die better it is for them. They see no other way of them coming back to power. So what if millions of Indians were to die! This gang is led by vociferous Siddharth Varadarajan, N. Ram, Shekar Gupta, Sardesai…..they think an article in NyT will topple the government and Modi will be swept away by their might pen. What a bunch of cynical fools!

  12. According to the international expert opinion as well as WHO, India has managed the crises very well, by preventing the spread of the infection. Nowhere was doubt expressed of false or suppressed figures coming from India, unlike China. pessimists take a hike, as your opinion is always biased against the present government. Rukmini should check her facts before claiming . The use of hydroxychloroquine was recommended by ICMR with many conditions.

  13. Isn’t it funny . First you divide them into the right and the left. Then you expect them to think identically. The old clever trick of Hindu haters. who have reduced secular to mean being pro-Muslim.

  14. Common sense tells us that number of deaths so far are not at all alarming and hence, irrespective of number of infected persons, this is a reassuring position. Rest of discussion is all about measurement and statistical analysis and is open to different interpretations. Some well established facts are – 1- Lock down has slowed the spread of infection definitely though that it self is not the cure of the virus at present. 2- preventive measures like wearing mask, distancing, etc help a lot 3- older people and people with co-morbidity are at much higher of death 4- it is difficult to enforce preventive measures particularly in a crowded place and hence, risk of spreading the infection after lock down is high 5- we are now well prepared to treat people and our indigenous capacity for manufacturing test kits, ventilators, PPEs etc is quite up to the mark.

    With this background, the rest of the article is a good read to understand politics behind corona!

  15. For an article written on 25 April you have used test data as on 7 April. Is there some scientific reason or were those the worst possible numbers you could find ? Please use latest data yours is 3 weeks old !!! and you guys are a digital only media house.

    As of today the data tells a different story
    US: Tests: 5,037,473 Confirmed cases: 925758
    Japan: Tests: 141,600 Confirmed Cases: 12,829
    India: Tests: 579,957 Confirmed Cases: 24,530


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