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.
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.
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.
We are deeply grateful to our readers & viewers for their time, trust and subscriptions.
Quality journalism is expensive and needs readers to pay for it. Your support will define our work and ThePrint’s future.
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.
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.
News media is in a crisis & only you can fix it
You are reading this because you value good, intelligent and objective journalism. We thank you for your time and your trust.
You also know that the news media is facing an unprecedented crisis. It is likely that you are also hearing of the brutal layoffs and pay-cuts hitting the industry. There are many reasons why the media’s economics is broken. But a big one is that good people are not yet paying enough for good journalism.
We have a newsroom filled with talented young reporters. We also have the country’s most robust editing and fact-checking team, finest news photographers and video professionals. We are building India’s most ambitious and energetic news platform. And we aren’t even three yet.
At ThePrint, we invest in quality journalists. We pay them fairly and on time even in this difficult period. As you may have noticed, we do not flinch from spending whatever it takes to make sure our reporters reach where the story is. Our stellar coronavirus coverage is a good example. You can check some of it here.
This comes with a sizable cost. For us to continue bringing quality journalism, we need readers like you to pay for it. Because the advertising market is broken too.
If you think we deserve your support, do join us in this endeavour to strengthen fair, free, courageous, and questioning journalism, please click on the link below. Your support will define our journalism, and ThePrint’s future. It will take just a few seconds of your time.