Covid-19: what you need to know today
On Monday, India recorded 22,022 new cases of the coronavirus disease. Case numbers are typically hit on Mondays due to testing shortages over the weekend, but the last Monday the country recorded fewer than 22,022 cases was June 29 (18,318 cases).
India saw 352 deaths from Covid-19 on Monday. The last Monday with the fewest deaths was June 22 (311 deaths).
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India’s Covid-19 numbers have clearly improved, as the accompanying charts show.
Why is this happening?
Let’s start with why it is not happening. Inadequate testing, this columnist’s favorite problem, as many have pointed out, is not reason. On Monday, India conducted 993,665 tests. The Sunday before (December 13), he made 855,157. On Monday, June 29, he performed 210,292 tests; and the Sunday before (June 28), it made 170,560.
Nor is it that some states and territories in the Union rely too heavily on the wrong kind of evidence. Both Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, to name just two, have increased the number of reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests they perform. These molecular tests are considered the gold standard in testing and are much more accurate than rapid antigen tests (which still account for the majority of tests performed by Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, although their overall proportion has decreased). However, Bihar remains dependent on rapid antigen testing.
So what could explain the sharp drop in the number of cases and deaths? The current seven-day case average is 28,827, 72.6% of what it was on December 1, 63.2% of what it was on November 1, and 37.8% of what it was on September 1. India has 333,392 active cases currently, 59.1% of the number of active cases on November 1 and 35.3% of the number on October 1.
One possible explanation is that there is better adherence to safety protocols such as the use of masks and social distancing. If everyone were to wear masks in all the situations where it made sense to them (and not just all the situations where they had to), the number of infections is sure to drop drastically, and India might be seeing some of that.
Another is that, with around 143 million people possibly exposed and infected by the virus (this number is calculated assuming a death rate from infection of 0.1% and working in reverse to the around 143,000 deaths that India has seen to date), immunity levels in the population are high enough to ensure a decrease in the number of infections. This figure, 143 million, translates into an exposure of 11% at the aggregate level, a proportion that is likely to be much higher in urban areas and much lower in remote rural areas. And since there is a strong possibility that some deaths will be reported, the actual levels may be higher. For example, 200,000 deaths would translate into 200 million infections and an exposure level of almost 15%.
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A third, and this is a more speculative explanation than the other two, is that the virus has infected most of the people susceptible to infection; we know that not all people exposed to the virus are infected; and that not all those infected become transmitters, and that as it passes from one person to another, it is increasingly in contact with people who are not infected. This would mean some pre-existing protection, perhaps from previous coronavirus infections or exposure to other viruses; Or maybe something like the BCG vaccine, something that is given to most Indians in childhood and that research has shown offers some protection against Covid-19, or at least reduces the severity of the infection.
All three explanations are mere theories at this point, there could be more, but we have to think along these lines simply because India’s infection trajectory is almost inexplicable.