Low COVID fatality rate in India: Economy crawling back to normal

The global COVID-19 curve has flattened twice before — first, when the Chinese outbreak peaked and the contagion was yet to reach the West; the second, when cases dropped in Europe — however, it has risen again as the virus has spread to new regions
17 Aug 2020 00:15
Low COVID fatality rate in India: Economy crawling back to normal
Rising power and fuel consumption, long traffic jams in metro cities like Delhi are indications of revival in economy

The three nations with the highest number of cases – the US (5.5 million), Brazil (3.3 million) and India (2.6 million) – together account for over 53 per cent of all cases in the world.

In the first 10 days of August, 60 per cent of all cases have come from these three nations, which also explain why a plateau in two of these (United States and Brazil) has influenced the global trajectory.

With close to 2.6 million confirmed cases and 51,000 deaths, India climbed to number three position on the COVID list. India is just behind the US and Brazil in the total number of confirmed cases.

In the last two weeks, the rate of new cases in the United States and Brazil appears to have hit a plateau in what appears to be a much-needed flattening of the third wave of global daily cases. With Colombia, India is one of the two countries among the world’s worst-hit regions where daily cases are still rising.

Experts fear, the total number of deaths in India may surpass Brazil by the end of August because the test positivity rate (TPR) — and the percentage of positive COVID tests is also not coming down.

The Optimistic Side
Everything related to COVID-19 is not alarming in the second most populous country in the world. India’s case fatality rate (CFR) of 1.97 is much lower than that of the other countries. Similarly, India’s deaths per million stands at 37, which is much lower than the figure of other countries.

Among the top ten countries in terms of total number of cases by August 17, Peru recorded 696 deaths per million of the total population, Spain 612, the US 523 and Brazil 507 which are very high compared to India.

The death rate among the COVID patients in India was 30 per cent in the end of March which has drastically come down to two per cent in the second week of August.

How Asia, particularly India is able to manage low fatality rate?
Contrary to the speculations by the Western world, India and Asian countries rapidly developed their health infrastructure by using available resources.

Delhi, the national capital of India has 14,115 COVID beds in the city today and 10,731 (76 per cent) of these are still unoccupied.

Asian countries are also poor, particularly in the subcontinent. They are much less urbanised and the virus loves density. This would explain why major cities in India like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata are COVID-19 epicentres.

People have also learnt a lot more about how oxygen support is more vital than ventilators. Moreover, studies show that there are pockets of the population that are not as susceptible to the virus as others.

According to Karl Friston, a British neuroscientist and statistician, up to 80 per cent of the population is not susceptible to the virus due to some “immunological dark matter”. Immunological dark matter here refers to the part of the immune system that we know nothing about.

Are the death numbers under reported in India?
Under reporting deaths by a large factor is an impossibility in India since even in villages, deaths need to be registered. Moreover, even if India was understating the death toll by half, this number will go up to 110,000. At 110,000 India’s per million deaths would still be less than 100, which is still much lower by far when compared to major countries affected by the pandemic.

In fact, even if nine out of 10 people dying in India were concealed, the deaths per million will be lower than all of Europe.

Economy crawling back to normal
After a contraction in the current financial year, India’s economy is forecast to bounce back with a sharp growth rate of 9.5 per cent next year, Fitch Ratings said in July. Reserve Bank of India Governor Shaktikanta Das said the Indian economy has started showing signs of returning to normalcy in response to the staggered easing of lockdown restrictions.

Busy roads in Delhi and Mumbai have started showing the signals of revival. Several consumer durable and infrastructure companies in the world’s fifth largest economy are now clocking standard business and production hours.

For the first time in these last few months, the Indian auto industry has reported a single digit decline of just over one per cent in passenger car wholesales.

In fact, sales of SUVs (Sports Utility Vehicles) clocked 14 per cent growth in volumes over the corresponding period last year.

Despite all odds, Havells India Limited, a leading Fast Moving Electrical Goods (FMEG) Company in India, announced a net profit of Rs. 63 crores (US$8.4m, FJ$18m) in the first quarter of the Indian financial year (April to June) which is three times lower compared to the corresponding period last year but surprisingly the company still managed to make a profit. “COVID-19 significantly impacted the performance during the quarter. Demand markets were tepid initially but picked momentum in the later half of May” says Anil Rai Gupta, Chairman and MD, Havells India Ltd.

“Havells is India’s leading FMEG company and not into production of any essential goods, health or pharma products which benefitted from COVID situation but still we managed to make profit” explains Anil Sharma, Head, Corporate communications, CSR and Sustainability, Havells.

Ratnamani Metal and Tubes Ltd. is a multi-product company providing critical tubing and piping solutions to diverse range of industries & niche markets in core sectors viz., oil & gas, refinery & petrochemical, dairy, chemical & fertilizer, nuclear power, LNG, defence, aerospace etc. They have an impressive clientele comprising of major public, private and joint sector companies across the globe, who are leaders in their respective segments.

Ratnamani, a leading core infrastructure company in India was facing challenges in running its plant in Gujarat state mainly because of a labour shortage and a disruption in the bidding process for new projects.

“Plant was closed during April and May and production cycle was reduced to nine hours a day during the month of June” says Dhiren Mohan Sharma, Marketing Head of the company. The situation has improved a lot after new SOPs and government incentives were provided.

“Looking at the low fatality rate, workers are not scared of COVID anymore, they know it may come and go in two weeks even if they are infected. Production lines have started rolling again with opening of bidding process for new projects” shares Dhiren Sharma.

The low fatality rate among COVID-19 patients in India is a big morale booster for everyone, especially, for millions of workers who were heading towards the hinterland two months ago and global media was worried about the ‘COVID Explosion’ in the densely populated country of 1.3 billion. Many curbs on movement have been relaxed, though schools, cinemas, gyms and bars remain shut.

A battle far from over
Despite having a few brighter spots, India is anywhere but far from danger. In the past three weeks, the only time India’s TPR came below 10 per cent was on a day when India tested a record number of 850,000 cases. India has also not managed to flatten any curve — be it the number of cases, number of deaths or test positivity rate.

According to the standards of WHO, India is still in the ‘Cluster of Cases’ stage, the ‘Community Transmission’ phase yet to arrive.

Prime Minister Modi emphasises that the three Ts (Test, Track and Treat) are crucial to the fight against COVID-19 in India, but this depends on how seriously people will adhere to COVID-safety norms in the world’s largest democracy.

Jai Kumar Sharma is Fiji Sun’s Consultant Editor based in New Delhi

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