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Death numbers still low in India, but no scope to relax in Covid-19 battle

Nearly 1 lakh infections daily, increase in fatality rate can jeopardise move towards normalcy.

Written by Amitabh Sinha | New Delhi |
Updated: September 18, 2020 7:31:47 am
coronavirus, covid 19 news, coronavirus news, india coronavirus active cases, coronavirus active cases, coronavirus recoveries, chhattisgarh coronavirus, maharashtra coronavirus news, delhi corona news, gujarat coronavirusSeeking detailed affidavit from the state on 11 incidents of alleged negligence by November 4, the court also asked the petitioner to provide suggestions on disposal of bodies thereafter and posted the hearing on PIL to November 23. (File)

India now accounts for 1 in every 6 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection in the world, which is roughly the same as India’s share in the global population. The silver lining is that India is so far contributing only 1 in 12 coronavirus-related deaths in the world.

This, of course, is likely to change as more people get infected; the daily numbers are now almost 1 lakh. With a lag of two to three weeks, a proportionate increase in the number of deaths can be expected. Already, more than 1,000 deaths are being reported every day from across the country.

As normal activities resume despite the rising number of infections, the biggest challenge is to prevent the number of deaths from spiralling upward. A rise in the fatality rate can seriously jeopardise the move towards normalcy, and slow down the recovery process. That is why local administrators and healthcare workers are being constantly instructed to make every effort to prevent as many deaths as possible.

Read| Covid-19: India’s mortality rate lowest, govt aims to bring it down to below 1 per cent, says Health minister

Many scientists and experts also believe that India’s death numbers are under-reported. But there is no reliable estimate on the extent of this suspected under-reporting.

As of now, the case fatality ratio (CFR), or the number of deaths against the number of confirmed infections, is 1.63 per cent. A total of 83,198 coronavirus-related deaths had been reported in India until Wednesday. The number of people who have been infected with the virus at some point is more than 51.18 lakh.

India’s CFR is about half of the global number, which currently stands at 3.14 per cent, and has been steadily declining. In fact, India’s position looks much better, relatively speaking, if deaths per million population is taken into account. Globally, about 121 coronavirus-related deaths have happened per million population, while in India, this number is only about 60.

However, as scientists repeatedly emphasise, calculating CFR this way, by dividing the total number of deaths by total number of confirmed infections on any given day, is likely to present a somewhat misleading picture.

That is because the epidemic is still evolving, and those dying on any given day are usually not from the group of people who got infected the same day, but rather from the group that got infected two or three weeks earlier. A better estimate of CFR would therefore require a comparison of the total number of deaths with the number of confirmed infections two to three weeks previous to that.

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However, in the absence of any uniform lag period between infection and death, a correct estimate of CFR can be had only by tracking the infection timeline of every individual patient who succumbed to the disease. Alternatively, a correct CFR will emerge only after the epidemic has ended.

In India, while Maharashtra accounts for the highest number of coronavirus-related deaths (more than 30,000), it is Punjab that has the highest CFR right now, almost 3 per cent. Punjab has reported more than 2,500 deaths till now, and has about 87,000 people who have been detected positive.

Gujarat, Maharashtra and Delhi are the other states that have CFRs higher than 2 per cent as of now.

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