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India coronavirus numbers explained: More recoveries than active cases, but how relevant is that

India Coronavirus (Covid-19) Cases Numbers: Recoveries higher than the active case is neither the beginning of the end of the epidemic nor the arrival of the ‘peak’. It does not mean that the number of cases would be declining from now on.

Written by Amitabh Sinha , Edited by Explained Desk | Pune |
Updated: June 19, 2020 9:43:47 pm
Medics take samples of suspected COVID-19 patients for lab tests at a government hospital in New Delhi (Express Photo/Amit Mehra)

India Coronavirus (Covid-19) Cases: The number of people who have recovered from Covid-19 disease in India is now more than those who are still sick. The Home Ministry’s latest update on Thursday showed that 1.41 lakh people had recovered from the disease, while a little more than 1.37 lakh cases were active.

Apart from being an interesting milestone, this statistic has little relevance. This doesn’t mark the beginning of the end of the epidemic, nor is it the arrival of the “peak”. It does not mean either that the number of cases would be declining from now on. In fact, once the number of deaths is brought into the equation, 8,102 at last count, it becomes clear that less than 50 per cent of the total infected people (2.86 lakh) have recovered so far. The total recoveries, in fact, work out to 49 per cent of all cases.

More than 10,000 cases were discovered on Wednesday

More importantly, total recoveries and the number of active cases are not comparable metrics. Total recoveries account for everyone who has recovered from the disease since the start of the outbreak. It is an accumulated number. Active cases, on the other hand, are only those that have been infected in the last 14 days, if it is assumed that every infected person, apart from those who die, is recovering in 14 days. So the comparison being made is between a number that has accumulated over three months, and increasing, which is the case in India right now, and a number that has emerged in the last two weeks.

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Recovery rate will keep rising

It is no surprise that with the passage of time, the number of recoveries will progressively rise, even as a percentage of total infections in the country. As discussed earlier, about 49 per cent of everyone who has been infected have recovered. This percentage will increase progressively. In fact, if the overall fatality remains what scientists expect it to be, below one per cent eventually, then, by the time the epidemic comes to an end, more than 99 per cent of the infected would be expected to have recovered.

Right now, the fatality rate in India is about 2.8 per cent. But that is only because we are measuring the number of dead against the infections that have been confirmed through testing. Most likely, there are many more people who are also carrying the infection, but are unknown because they have not been tested. In large population groups, like that in India, the exact number of people infected during an epidemic may never be known, because the entire population cannot be tested. But scientists have ways to reach reliable estimates through careful sampling of people who can be selected for testing.

When those untested and unconfirmed infections are also accounted for, scientists expect the overall fatality to remain below one per cent. So, by the time the epidemic is over, the recovery rate should go up to at least 99 per cent. That milestone is still some distance away.

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Maharashtra 94,041 3,254 44,517 3,438
Tamil Nadu 36,841 1,927 19,333 326
Delhi 32,810 1,501 12,245 984
Gujarat 21,554 510 14,743 1,347
Uttar Pradesh 11,610 275 6,971 321
Rajasthan 11,487 355 8,456 259
Madhya Pradesh 10,049 200 6,892 427
Karnataka 6,041 120 2,862 71
West Bengal 9,328 343 3,779 432
Bihar 5,698 243 2,934 34

Recoveries vs new cases

In the meanwhile, the metric to watch out for is the ratio of the number of daily recoveries to the number of new cases detected every day. If the number of people recovering on any given day is more than new cases being detected, it would mean that more people are coming out of the hospital than going in. If this trend holds for more than two weeks, then it can be an indication of the disease having ‘peaked’ and a decline having started.
In India, that stage is yet to be reached. In Thursday’s update, the 2.86 lakh cases reflected a rise of 9,996 cases from the previous day, compared to 5,826 recoveries in the same period.

As and when recoveries do begin to exceed new cases, the trend would become evident in some states before getting visible at the national level. In fact, there have already been a few instances when states have reported more recoveries than new cases. But these have mostly been in the nature of adjustments made for previously unaccounted data. Punjab, for example, had reported 1,000 recoveries in a single day, when a change in guidelines allowed the state to discharge all asymptomatic cases from institutional quarantine. Maharashtra recently reported more than 8,000 recoveries, because it counted thousands of unreported recoveries from many previous days. Last month, Tamil Nadu had reported more recoveries than new cases for two consecutive days, but that trend did not hold long enough. Tamil Nadu has had a rapid rise in cases after that.

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