Covid in India and the world

There is no absolute norm by which to judge whether the first phase of the national lockdown has been successful, since there were no specific goals laid down. But there could be relative norms applied, say, by comparisons with other countries. Among the top 10 Covid-19 affected countries, the number of cases reported daily is clearly on the decline, most sharply in China. The outlier is the US, whose tally of new cases is still accelerating. In comparison, new cases in China are down to pretty much nothing.

Among the remaining eight countries in the top 10, five (France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Iran) peaked shortly after mid-March and are down to half or less than half their peak numbers on new cases. The last three countries, (UK, Turkey and Belgium), may have just peaked. Of the top 10, which together account for close to 80 per cent of all Covid-19 cases, only the US is still accelerating, and its total numbers are now nearly 30 per cent of the global tally. For the other nine countries, the tide has turned. As for the next set of 10 countries that are most affected by the virus (ranked 11 to 20), two are still accelerating on new cases, while six peaked quite recently, at various stages in April. Infections in two countries (Switzerland and Austria) peaked in March. For almost all the countries most affected by the virus, a turning point has been reached, and the tally of new cases has begun to come under control. This is an encouraging picture.

How does India compare with the rest of the world? It ranks 22nd (compared to about 40th when the lockdown was announced). Its higher ranking now is because its growth in cases over the period of the lockdown has been among the fastest in percentage terms (but not in absolute numbers): Multiplying 19-fold in 20 days from March 25 to April 13. Along the way, its tally of cases has become bigger than all the East Asian countries, including Japan, about the same as South Korea, and moved much ahead of Pakistan. China remains at the top in the continent, and seventh overall. Among the countries ranked above India in number of cases, only Turkey and Russia have seen their overall tally grow faster than India in percentage terms since March 24.

These numbers, showing high relative growth, run counter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claim of success with the first phase of the lockdown. He may, of course, be viewing the actual record against the counterfactual of what might have been the picture in India without a lockdown, but the latter is an imponderable. Indeed, Mr Modi’s decision to extend the lockdown by nearly three weeks (longer than what chief ministers had wanted, and on a blanket basis to boot) suggests that he continues to be worried about the spread of the disease, and thinks that its control has not yet been achieved. His holding out of a review on April 20 indicates that in his assessment the numbers may begin tapering off by then. One can only wish he is proved right.

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