As fresh cases of the novel coronavirus disease touched a new high of 6,088, the government claimed on Friday that the nationwide lockdown had averted 14-29 lakh cases and 37,000-71,000 deaths, based on modelling projections by various independent agencies and individuals.
In the last 24 hours, 148 Covid-19 deaths have been reported across the country. The total number of cases is now 1,18,447, and the disease has killed 3,583 people so far.
Dr V K Paul, Member (Health), NITI Aayog, said the lockdown decision “by the Prime Minister was early and timely”, and “the way the country effectively implemented it, is an international example”.
He said: “The gains of lockdown 1 and 2 (March 25-April 14 and April 15-May 3) are visible now as these gains show after a delay. India’s lockdown was part and parcel of overall strategy starting with travel restrictions, social distancing and mobilising people and state governments. We decided to shut down to stop the chain of transmission to the extent possible…
“Growth rate of new cases till April 3 was increasing at the rate of 22.6%, behaviour of the virus was exponential. After April 4 there is clear slowing of the growth and then it settled at 5.5%. This shows that the country stopped the progression of the virus… Overall we averted between 14-29 lakh cases and 37,000-71,000 deaths.”
The lockdown has “made it difficult for the virus to travel”, Dr Paul said. However, he stressed the need to stay cautious, as a measure like the lockdown could not “go on forever”.
The doubling time of the epidemic is now 13.3 days against the 3.5 days before the lockdown, and the outbreak has been limited, he said.
“We have limited the virus by the efforts of the Union government, state governments and people; 60 per cent of our cases are in five cities, 70 per cent are in 10 cities. This is a result of the lockdown. Of the deaths, 80 per cent are in five states (Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, and Delhi), 95% are in 10 states (Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka). It is an urban disease. Of these, 60% deaths are in five cities (Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Pune, Delhi, and Kolkata), 70% are in 10 cities (Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Pune, Delhi, Kolkata, Indore, Thane, Jaipur, Chennai and Surat),” Dr Paul said.
Dr Paul chairs the Empowered Group constituted by the Ministry of Home Affairs on the medical emergency management plan. He is also member of the Empowered Group on strategic issues related to the lockdown, which is headed by Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla.
Dr Paul is also co-chair — along with Principal Scientific Adviser to the PM, K VijayRaghavan — of a task force set up to coordinate among science agencies, scientists, industries, and regulatory bodies. In an interview to The Indian Express last month, he had said that June and July would “test the country’s resolve” in fighting Covid-19.
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On the way forward, Dr Paul said: “Lockdown is a special measure necessitated at some stage when you fight a pandemic without medicine and vaccine. But it cannot go on for an unlimited time, livelihoods are at stake… we have to create a balance. Lockdown was for a purpose and it was achieved to a large extent. It is very important to continue in a manner which creates headwinds for the virus. We have to continue with hand washing, social distancing etc.”
Quoting various modelling projections done by independent agencies, Praveen Srivastava, Secretary, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, said: “According to Boston Consulting Group, using a scientific advanced model based on change in reproduction rate, cases could have been 36 lakh-70 lakh without lockdown. Lives saved is about 1.2-2.1 lakh. Public Health Foundation of India estimated that 78,183 deaths have been avoided. Two independent economists have estimated that we have averted 23 lakh cases and 68,000 deaths. According to some retired scientists from National Institute of Medical Statistics, about 15.9 lakh cases and 51,000 deaths have been avoided. Our Ministry worked with the Indian Statistical Institute and found that 20 lakh cases, 54,000 deaths were averted.”
The models, Srivastava said, were based on publicly available Covid-19 data.
Dr Paul apologised for a slide presented earlier by the government that had seemed to suggest that the number of cases in the country would be zero by May 15. “I never made that claim. I am sorry if the slide created confusion,” he said. He added that the lockdown had helped the country ramp up health infrastructure in a big way within two months.
Over 27 lakh tests have been done so far. “This is the fourth day when we have done over 1 lakh tests in one day, of which 85,542 were in government labs, 18,287 in private labs,” Dr R R Gangakhedkar, head of epidemiology and infectious diseases at ICMR, Delhi, said.