As we begin a new year, there are reasons to believe that the coronavirus epidemic in India is in a steady, possibly irreversible, decline. This is how the Covid-19 situation in India was looking on the last day of 2020.
India is currently reporting around 20,000 new infections every day. This number has been on a steady decline for more than three months now. The peak was reached on September 17 when 97,894 infections were detected in a single day. As can be seen from the graph, the downward journey is slightly flatter than when the numbers were rising. This is likely to become more flat as we go along, meaning that the new cases would not stop abruptly. Infections would most likely continue to get detected for several months. Minor surges in the daily numbers are not ruled out, but it is unlikely that India would get anywhere closer to the peak numbers. This is very different than the situation in the United States and many European countries, where the peak in the second and third waves were much higher than in the first.
Active Covid-19 cases in India
These are the patients who are yet to recover. Not surprisingly, the trajectory of active cases is very similar to that of new cases. More the number of infections detected, higher would be the active cases. On September 17, there were more than 10.17 lakh active cases in the country, after which the decline started. As of now, about 2.57 lakh patients are infected, and still to recover. More than 96 per cent of the people who had got the infection have recovered till now.
Covid-19 deaths in India
Ultimately, this will decide how bad the epidemic was. So far, close to 1.5 lakh people have died due to the disease in India. This is the third highest death toll in the world, after the United States, and Brazil. But per million population, several other countries have recorded far more deaths. India has seen about 110 deaths per million population, which is less than half of the world average of about 233.
The number of coronavirus-related deaths being reported daily from across the country has followed a similar bell-like trajectory. On several days in August, September and October, more than 1,000 deaths were reported. This number has come down to less than 300 now. There often has been considerable time lag in reporting of deaths. As a result, states were often clubbing deaths from several days and reporting them all together. This led to some unusual spikes in the graph, like on June 16, when Maharashtra reported 1,409 deaths, and Delhi 437, both states adding several previously unaccounted for deaths in a data-cleaning exercise. Similarly, Tamil Nadu reported 518 deaths on July 22 in a similar exercise.
Covid-19 in India: Daily Detections vs Daily Recoveries
This was a keenly-watched indicator when the numbers were rising. That’s because when the daily detections begin to consistently remain lower than the detection of new cases, it signals the arrival of the peak, and subsequent decline of the epidemic. This is what began to happen after the middle of September. In the more than three months since, there have been only 11 days, when the detection of new cases exceeded the recoveries. More recoveries meant a steady decline in the active cases.
Covid-19 tests in India
These were the most crucial in containing the spread of the virus. For the first few weeks of the outbreak, India seemed woefully prepared to carry out adequate number of tests. Initially, just one laboratory, the National Institute of Virology in Pune began testing samples. As the need for tests rose sharply, at one point, there was danger that India would run out of testing kits, chemicals and reagents within a couple of weeks. But after the initial hiccups, testing capacities were ramped up quickly, and many more laboratories, both government and private began testing. New testing kits were developed that could give quicker results. From a few hundred tests a day in March and April, India began testing more than 10 lakh samples a day by the end of August. On a few occasions, this number touched almost 15 lakh. More than 1,500 laboratories across the country are now engaged in testing samples. Though there have been days of low testing, sometimes coming down to as low as 7 to 8 lakh a day, on most occasions since September India has been consistently testing more than 10 lakh samples a day.
Covid-19 in India: Growth Rate and Doubling time
These used to be very important indicators at one point of time, but have been rendered irrelevant now. In the first few months, India had seen a case growth rate of more than 6 per cent a day and a doubling time of less than 10 days. That explained the exponential rise in the number of cases. But as the baseline became wider, the growth rate started to come down, as expected. Consequently, the doubling time increased. Right now, India’s cases are growing at less than 0.2 per cent per day, while the doubling time has increased to almost a year.