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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

ExplainSpeaking: Covid-19 cases are still growing slowly, but this week is crucial

A weekly newsletter that will give you a heads-up on the Covid-19 headlines this week — and explain what lies between them.

Written by Ravish Tiwari | New Delhi | Updated: April 21, 2020 8:09:24 am
explained covid 19, coronavirus week wrap, coronavirus india updates, coronavirus, explained speaking, indian express explained, This week will be crucial for the government to understand the dynamics of the gradual unlockdown strategy — whether it re-starts economic activity, or ends up compromising the gains made so far by the lockdown. (Express Photo: Gurmeet Singh)

Hi there,

I am Ravish Tiwari, political editor and chief of the national political bureau at The Indian Express. Starting today, I will take turns with other editors at our paper to bring you weekly newsletters that will give you a heads-up on the news headlines this week — and explain what lies between them.

In a couple of days, we will have completed four weeks of the national lockdown aimed at flattening the coronavirus curve and reducing the numbers of infections and fatalities.

As of this afternoon, the number of Covid-19 positive cases in the country, according to the data on the website of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, is 17,265, a little less than double the number from a week ago — 9,352 on April 13 evening. (The MOHFW data lag a little behind the data released by individual states every day, so the actual number of cases as I write this today would be a little higher.)

This rate of growth of the infection offers some hope. Doubling in about a week’s time could indicate that the lockdown may be achieving at least some of its intended objective, that is, to flatten the pandemic curve. The number of deaths too, has followed a similar trajectory during this period — it is 543 on the MOHFW site today; it was 324 last Monday evening.

Given this trajectory of the outbreak, the government’s response was tweaked last week.

First, the government identified 170 districts as hotspots — places that either have a large number of cases, or where the disease is doubling faster (in about four days) than the national average.

Second, the government has decided to roll out a gradual unlockdown in districts where the incidence of the disease is isolated, or where the virus is not present at all. At last count, there are still over 300 districts in the country where not a single COVID-19 positive case has been reported so far.

The experience of graded relaxation in different parts of the country will help inform the government’s future course of action. (Express Photo by Prashant Nadkar)

This week will be crucial for the government to understand the dynamics of the gradual unlockdown strategy — whether it re-starts economic activity, or ends up compromising the gains made so far by the lockdown in breaking the transmission of the disease. The experience of graded relaxation in different parts of the country will help inform the government’s future course of action.

However, economic activity in major business centres like Mumbai, Delhi-NCR, Pune, Surat, and Ahmedabad are likely to remain restricted because they are all ‘hotspots’. The spotlight will be on the dynamics of the disease in these 170 hotspot districts which have been identified for aggressive testing and containment operations.

The containment and hotspot strategies seems to be working so far in areas with smaller case loads — bringing the hope that focussed attention on hotspots may yield results if people comply with the protocol. Over 50 districts have not reported any fresh cases in the last 14 days.

With increased availability of rapid testing kits, and the pooled testing strategy adopted by several states, the testing capacity is going to go up further through this week. This will help health administrators to better identify the spread and transmission of disease in different parts of the country. The results of enhanced testing too, will inform the administration’s unlockdown strategy going ahead.

The outbreak seems to have peaked in some of the worst affected European countries. One hopes that this trend stabilises — and these countries are able to take steps towards reopening their economies. The disease still seems to be raging through parts of the USA.

Everyone is watching the curve — we will, too. Hope to update you next week with news of more flattening, at more places.

Cheers, and stay safe.

Ravish

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