COVID-19: India set to overtake China's total tally

Country to be among the most affected; upward trend in number of deaths, infections continue

By Banjot Kaur
Published: Friday 15 May 2020

The total number of cases positive to the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) in India is set to exceed that of China’s on May 16, 2020.

Ironically, that was the day when nationwide lockdown was supposed to have stemmed off new cases in the country, according to NITI Aayog member Vinod Paul — he said so at a press conference on April 25.

He was way off the mark: Both the number of deaths due to the ensuing disease (COVID-19) and the load of new cases have been surging. 

In fact, private aggregator pegs India’s case tally at 85,546 (May 15 evening) — ahead of China’s 82,933 and eleventh highest in the world.

Another private tracker, places the tally even higher at 85,760.

The official data is generally updated every morning on the Union health ministry website.

India’s first COVID-19 case was registered on January 30. There were only five cases till March 3.

From March 3, India took 75 days to get past China. However, if one takes January 30 as the cut-off date, India took 107 days for this.

There are 10 more countries that have more cases than China now. According to a Down To Earth (DTE) analysis, Turkey took 39 days to go ahead of the country of origin of this pandemic.

The United States (64 days), Spain (56 days), United Kingdom (71 days), Italy (57 days), Brazil (65 days), France (76 days), Germany (67 days) and Iran (62 days) are other countries in the list ahead of China.

Russia registered its first case on February 1 but there was no new case for one full month. On March 3, the count went up to 3. Therefore, with this cut-off date, it was 58 days for Russia.

However, is it correct to look only at the indicator of the number of days a country took to go beyond China, especially with limitations regarding testing?

Among all those countries listed above, India has the lowest testing rates, with the exception of Brazil. According to Our World in Data, India’s tests per thousand population currently stand at 1.41.

The corresponding rates for five countries just above India, that is, Iran, Germany, Turkey, France and Brazil are 7.61, 37.57, 17.89, 12.73 and 0.62 respectively.

Who is bending the curve?

Among these 11 countries, all other than India, Brazil and Russia have started bending the curve in terms of seven-day rolling average of daily confirmed cases.

For the US, for instance, the seven-day rolling average was 30, 789; 26, 792; and 27,442 respectively in the last three counts. For Spain, Germany, UK, Italy, France and Iran too, the average has witnessed a downward trend.

However, for India, Brazil and Russia, the trend has gone up and thus the curve is also peaking instead of bending down.  For India, the seven-day rolling average of cases has been 1,709, 2,092, 3,043 on three counts respectively.

In terms of the number of deaths too, the trend is exactly the same. Other than Brazil, Russia and India, all seem to be bending the curve. The seven-day rolling average for the number of deaths in the US in the last three counts was 1,863, 1,813 and 1,781 respectively.

Germany, UK, France, Iran, Italy and Spain’s rolling average has come down, similarly. But it has gone north for Brazil, India and Russia. The seven-day rolling average for deaths in India has been 91, 106 and 115 respectively, on the last three counts.

All these countries also imposed strict restriction measures. Our World in Data measures their stringency and marks them from 0 to 100. A 100 marks reflect the strictest measure.

India is the only country among these countries which scored 100 and that too for a long period from March 25 to April 19. The highest score till now for the US has been 71.58 and UK 82.27.

“The Government Response Stringency Index is a composite measure based on nine response indicators including school closures, workplace closures, and travel bans, rescaled to a value from 0 to 100 (100 = strictest response),” the tracker says.

“This index simply records the number and strictness of government policies, and should not be interpreted as ‘scoring’ the appropriateness or effectiveness of a country’s response,” it adds. 

Ramanan Laxminarayan, founder-director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy at the University of Washington cautions India's direct comparison with China might not be very conclusive as the epidemic of the latter was not as widespread as that of the former.

“India has approached the 80,000 case mark through an exponential curve while China had already flattened by this time. The upward trend is likely to continue because China had a Wuhan-centered epidemic, whereas India has had to deal with multiple epidemics centered around every international airport through which the virus entered the country. So, it is difficult to compare the two situations,” he told DTE.

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