Covid-19 Mid-Month Review: Comparing India's States Against The World

  • A close look at the numbers reveals that in spite of a few lapses in a few states, the central government and the states mounted a better response to the Wuhan virus than the rest of the world.
  • Venu Gopal NarayananSaturday, August 14, 2021 3:06 am IST
    Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Yogi Adityanath
    Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Yogi Adityanath

    Two months ago, when the second wave finally began to ebb, Swarajya predicted that July 2021 would be a crucial moving month in India’s fight against the Wuhan virus. This was based on two assumptions: one, that the vaccine drive would dramatically pick up pace over July and August; and two, that high levels of testing and monitoring, in most well-managed states, would prevent a resurgence.

    As Independence Day approaches, we see that India has indeed turned a corner. The vaccination drive is surging magnificently (to be elaborated in a forthcoming piece) while a dreaded third wave has stayed mercifully away, thus far. This is in spite of clusters continuing to flourish in the North East, and the two perennially hapless governments, of Kerala and Maharashtra, still failing to bring the epidemic under firm control.

    A common working consensus at present is that even if, god forbid, a third wave were to develop, its impact would be much more muted. This is because the vaccines would work to hinder transmissions and lessen the manifestation of serious symptoms.

    The analogy used is that of Britain. Although a third wave is raging there currently, both hospitalizations and fatalities are a fraction of what they were during a long, devastating second wave which stretched from autumn through winter.

    Chart 1: UK epidemic data (Open in new tab to enlarge)
    Chart 1: UK epidemic data (Open in new tab to enlarge)

    As can be seen from the chart above, while the case counts in summer 2021 went up to the previous wave’s levels (blue curve), the daily deaths per million (red curve) are a fraction of what it was around the start of 2021.

    So, while the risk has not abated, most Indian provinces have commenced a limping, gradual, return to a semblance of normalcy. Shops are open, schools and colleges are reopening, and the economy has finally begun to pick up the pieces, after the severe battering it received in the past eighteen months.

    Consequently, this piece puts the situation in perspective, by comparing epidemic data across states, and uniquely, by comparing the states of our Union to the world.

    The findings are illuminating.

    Chart 2 below plots deaths per million against cases per million for all states and union territories of India:

    Chart 2: Deaths per million versus cases per million; all Indian states and union territories. (Open in new tab to enlarge)
    Chart 2: Deaths per million versus cases per million; all Indian states and union territories. (Open in new tab to enlarge)

    We see that Delhi, Maharashtra and Kerala are the worst performers among the large states. Note how far to the right and up, the three states’ points lie, in comparison to the rest of India, and the Indian average (black square). For perspective, a pink square has also been plotted at bottom right: it represents the Indian average minus these three states. The inference is that India’s overall performance would have been much better, and more lives could have been saved, if only the epidemic had been contained more efficiently.

    Be that as it may, the real perspective is provided when we plot the individual states’ data against the rest of the world in Chart 3 below:

    Chart 3: Epidemic data crossplot of Indian states and all countries. ((Open in new tab to enlarge)
    Chart 3: Epidemic data crossplot of Indian states and all countries. ((Open in new tab to enlarge)

    To explain the chart briefly first: this is a dimensionless crossplot of deaths per million on the vertical y-axis, versus cases per million on the horizontal x-axis. Both scales are logarithmic. The dark grey circles are nation-wise data, and the broad trend they build is marked by a dotted grey line. The maroon circles represent Indian provincial data. The world average is denoted by a pink square.

    Readers may note that the bulk of the grey dots in the lower left quadrant of Chart 3 either represent countries in Africa, where monitoring and reporting is rudimentary, or small, isolated island nations whose principal populations clusters would barely fill Eden Gardens.

    The list includes China, which says it has suffered only 3 deaths per million, and Tanzania, which has only now come out of denial. In reality, therefore, the world average point (pink) must, actually, lie further up, and more to the right, of the chart.

    Yet even with that, most of the large, worst-affected nations of Europe, the Americas, and Asia, lie in the upper-right quadrant of the plot. Now compare these, and the global average, with India (black): bearing in mind that the scales are logarithmic, we see that there is an order of magnitude difference in epidemic containment between India and the others.

    Look at where the United Kingdom lies (green), with respect to the global average, other countries, and most pertinently, India; this, when Britain is generally considered to have tackled the epidemic fairly efficiently.

    This sense of perspective gets spectacularly heightened, when we compare America (yellow square). We see that America has done worse than even the worst-performing province of India.

    Implausible as it may sound, America’s failure to manage the epidemic is far worse than even our tiny outliers like Lakshadweep, Puducheri or Goa.

    On the other hand, data shows that Uttar Pradesh has performed better than most of the rest of the world. Not only has the state (purple square), which is larger than most countries of the world, contained the epidemic in exemplary fashion by Indian standards (already amongst the highest in the world), but its administration is also one of the top global performers, in bringing the Wuhan virus to heel.

    Allied with the massive, ongoing vaccination drive, with over half a billion doses already administered, chart 3 shows just how efficiently we tacked the epidemic of a century.

    This is something India should be rightly proud of; that, in spite of a few lapses in a few states, the central government and the states built up public health resource capacity in textbook fashion, and galvanized our bureaucracy and private enterprises to save precious Indian lives, better than the rest of the world did.

    People would do well to bear these vital findings in mind, before posting negativist images of burning pyres, or twisting facts, to concoct baseless, gloomy narratives of a despairing India. The truth, on the contrary, is that we stood up to be counted when it mattered, together, as one nation, and the results show.

    All data from Covid19india.org and 'Our World in Data'.

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