West Bengal reported 11 deaths on Sunday, its highest on any single day, to take the state tally of dead to 33, but more importantly it revealed that there were another 72 deaths of Coronavirus patients that it was not counting.
That was because an expert committee appointed by the state government had ascertained that these 72 had serious pre-existing illnesses, and that their deaths could not be attributed primarily to the COVID-19 disease caused by novel Coronavirus.
According to the state bulletin on Thursday, West Bengal had 572 ‘active’ cases. Another 139 had recovered from the disease and discharged from hospitals, while 33 people had died. This would give West Bengal a case load of 744. But since the 72 other dead had also tested positive, and they cannot be included either in the ‘active’ cases, or amongst those who have been discharged, it means the state had at least 816 confirmed cases of novel Coronavirus till Thursday evening.
Death of 105 persons among 816 confirmed positive cases would give the state a case-fatality ratio (CFR) of 13 per cent, which is way above any other state. Maharashtra, the worst affected state in India, has so far registered 459 deaths, and has 10,498 cases. Its CFR is just about 4 per cent. Similarly, Gujarat, with 214 deaths and 4,395 cases, has a CFR of less than 5.
|State (Top 10)||Total Cases||New Cases||Total Deaths||CFR (in %)|
|West Bengal||816||37||33 (105)||4.04 (12.87)|
The national CFR is just about three per cent. India added 1,978 new cases on Thursday to take its confirmed caseload to 34,949. The death toll had crossed at least 1120.
A more precise definition of CFR used by scientists is the ratio of deaths to the total number of infected people in the population, not just those who have been detected to have the infection. Since the whole population in a country like India can never be tested, any reliable estimate of the total number of infections usually emerges only after the epidemic is over. But this number is always greater than the number of those who have tested positive for the disease, and as such the actual CFR is much lower than just the ratio of dead to confirmed positive cases.
It is quite possible that the actual caseload in West Bengal is much higher than what is known, and that the state is just not testing enough number of people. The state has so far tested only 16,525 samples. This is less than even Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir, two states with comparable, though lesser, caseload than West Bengal.
But even if there are many more undetected infections in West Bengal, a nominal CFR of 13 per cent is way too high. Over the last few days, The Indian Express has reported that West Bengal also happens to be one of the fastest-growing states for the Coronavirus infection at this point in time. Its doubling time, the number of days it takes for the cases to double, is also the lowest in the country right now.
That is why scientists have begun to warn that though the reported numbers in West Bengal are still quite small compared to states like Maharashtra and Gujarat, the state was fast emerging as a potential danger zone in the next couple of weeks.
Elsewhere, Punjab recorded its highest single-day jump in the number of Coronavirus cases, thanks to a large group of pilgrims which returned from Nanded in Maharashtra and tested positive for the virus. More than 2000 Sikh pilgrims in Nanded, home to one of the holiest shrines of Sikhs, were left stranded last month after the lockdown was announced. Five days ago, arrangements were made for one large group to travel back to their home towns in Punjab in sanitized chartered buses. Since then, many more have been taken to Punjab. However, when they were tested on their arrival, many of them were found to have been infected. Till Thursday evening,183 of these pilgrims had tested positive, 149 of them in a single day. Results of several others were awaited.
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As a result, Punjab numbers jumped from 375 on Wednesday to 542 on Thursday. Surveillance has been increased both in Punjab and in Nanded as a result of infections found in this group, which has the potential to become another super-spreader event, like the Tabligh Jamaat meeting in New Delhi in mid-March.
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