For seven straight days now, the detection of new cases of coronavirus infection in the country has remained lower than the number of people recovering from the disease. This is the longest unbroken run for this trend so far.
The new detections have remained lower than the recoveries on 17 of the last 22 days, resulting in an important reduction in the number of active cases in the country, from a high of 10.17 lakh to less than 8.9 lakh. On Friday, about 73,000 new infections were detected, while nearly 83,000 people were declared to have recovered from the disease.
New cases remaining lower than the recoveries is a very welcome trend, as it might be an indication of the epidemic having peaked, at least when the trend holds for at least a few weeks at a stretch. In the current epidemic, however, it is still too premature to talk about a peak, since the epidemic is nowhere close to having run its course. An epidemic like this can end only if there aren’t enough people left for the virus to infect, or people have been made immune to the virus through vaccination. None of this has happened right now.
The current declining trend of daily numbers can, thus, only be a temporary phenomenon, without very good explanation right now. It can turn around any time, as has happened in the case of Delhi and Kerala. But so long it continues, it will help in easing the burden on the health infrastructure.
One of the biggest reasons for the relatively lower numbers at the national level has been the significant drop in the infections being reported by Maharashtra. In the last 20 days, Maharashtra has reported about 16,000 new cases every day, on an average. In the 20 days prior to that, it had been finding about 20,000 cases on an average. The result has been that in the last 20 days, the number of active cases in the state has dropped from three lakh to about 2.35 lakh. That is about 27 per cent of all the active cases in the country.
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(Odisha data till October 8, 2020. Other data till October 9, 2020)
Andhra Pradesh, the state with the second highest caseload in the country, is also going through a similar decline. Its daily numbers have dropped to a level of 5,000 now, half of what it was reporting three weeks ago.
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The surge in Kerala, in the meanwhile, is continuing. After a day of surprisingly sharp drop in the new infections, Kerala reported another jump on Friday. The state had reported more than 10,000 cases for the first time on Wednesday, but the number dropped to less than 5,500 the next day. On Friday, the number rebounded to over 9,200.
Kerala Health Minister K K Shailaja said this number was likely to go up even higher in the coming days.”Our expectation is that the daily numbers would peak around 20,000. Our effort is to keep it below 15,000 a day. We hope that by November, these number would begin to decline,” Shailaja told The Indian Express.
Shailaja cited several reasons for the rise in numbers. “During June and September, about nine lakh people came back to the state. As it is Kerala is a very densely populated state. Then we had Onam, and people did not follow the rules properly during the festival. So, there was a rise in cases in August. After that, there have been Opposition protests against the state government, and huge gatherings have been organised. It not only increased the cases but also gave the feeling that the government was unnecessarily putting restrictions,” she said.
But Dr Mohammad Asheel, executive director of Kerala Social Security Mission who has worked in public health, said Kerala numbers were nothing to be surprised at.
“The important thing is not whether the daily numbers have gone past 5,000 or 10,000. The important thing is whether our public healthcare systems have the capacity to deal with 5,000 or 10,000 cases every day. And, here, I think Kerala has done well in all these months to strengthen its capacities, so that it is now in much better position to deal with this rise in numbers,” he said.
He also pointed to the low death count in the state. “The primary objective in Kerala has been to keep deaths to the minimum. And I think, it has done reasonably well on that front. Look, once the pandemic is over, the only metric that would matter is how many people we lost to the disease. And, this is very important. Even as the infection numbers have risen sharply in the last few days, just look at the case fatality ratio. It is lower than what it was in May and June, lower than what it was in August. It is constantly declining. Ultimately, how well a government was able to handle the pandemic would come down to this,” he said.