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The Contrarian Pandemic

We can thus conclude that the daily chance of a person surviving after being infected with Covid-19 is not only very high but is also increasing steadily, which shows that our health system is now coping better with the pandemic. As the number of daily fresh infections is now less than the number of persons who are recovering from Covid-19 infections, our resources would not fall short in tackling the pandemic


So far, the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic has proved fatal for more than a million people. Far from devising a method to limit the scourge of the pandemic, till date no one has even succeeded in predicting its course; doctors, virologists, scientists and world leaders ~ all have consistently been proved wrong in almost anything they ever said about Coronavirus.

After President Trump had christened Covid-19 as ‘the Chinese Virus’ but before the first Coronavirus case emerged in Italy, the Mayor of Florence, Dario Nardella, initiated a ‘hug a Chinese’ campaign on Twitter on 1 February 2020. Soon enough, by 1 April, Italy had become the worst Corona affected country in Europe and the Italian PM Giuseppe Conte broke down on national TV when asked about the pandemic.

Today, the US has more than 7 million Covid cases and more than 200,000 fatalities, but Trump had said on February 9 that the common flu, which killed 25,000-69,000 people annually, was more dangerous than the Coronavirus. Trump had also said that the virus would go away in April because it would be killed by heat. In fact, as reported by the Washington Post, Trump has said no less than 34 times that the pandemic would just disappear.

Proved wrong repeatedly, Trump argued, it was “a badge of honour” that the US had the world’s highest number of confirmed Covid-19 infections. “I look at that as, in a certain respect, being a good thing because it means our testing is much better” he had said at a time the US ranked 16th globally in terms of tests per 1,000 people, behind countries like Russia and Canada. British PM Boris Johnson, who was mistakenly pursuing the unproved concept of ‘herd immunity,’ was laid low by Covid-19 and escaped death by the skin of his teeth.

Our record in this respect is hardly better. Explaining the impact of the lockdown on Coronavirus infections, a member of the Niti Aayog had claimed, on 24 April 2020, that there would be no fresh case of Coronavirus after 15 May 2020 and while announcing the first round of lockdown on 24 March 2020, Prime Minister Modi had promised the end of the pandemic in three weeks. Yet, after six months and four rounds of lockdowns and an equal number of un-lockdowns, we have over 60 lakh infections, the second largest number in the world; likely to surpass the world leader, the US, in the next fortnight.

The Coronavirus pandemic has defied prediction because each disease has a different virology which may be similar to but is not identical to any known disease. It would appear that the learned advisors to powerful world leaders like the Niti Aayog member mistakenly assumed that the number of infections would follow a normal curve. Optimistically, and with a view to please their masters, they took even a single day’s drop in the number of infections as an inflection point.

The absence of hard facts has led to a proliferation of conspiracy theories, with people of the eminence of the US President alleging that this is a factory-made virus, developed in China’s Wuhan lab. China’s extremely aggressive behaviour with the world at large appears to be a reaction to its loss of face, which only reinforces the stance of conspiracy theorists who gleefully point out that the two countries most at odds with China, US and India, are the worst affected by the pandemic. According to the same theorists, as a counter example, India’s neighbours, who are mostly Chinese clients, are almost unaffected by the pandemic despite having the same social conditions and a much weaker health infrastructure.

The WHO, which should lead the fight against the pandemic, has lost much of its credibility, after it downplayed the seriousness of the virus, at the instance of China. The pandemic has also revealed the ugly side of human nature. The price of masks, sanitizers, common cough and cold medicines has been hiked by manufacturers and even reputed hospitals have been accused of profiteering at the expense of patients.

In the background of ugly allegations of spying on each other’s vaccine development programmes, Russia and China have started inoculating their populations with vaccines that do not appear to have been tested properly. President Trump had also tried to browbeat FDA into granting approval to vaccines without adequate trials. Rich countries have already signed contracts with vaccine manufacturers to appropriate their entire vaccine production; depriving developing countries of the vaccine till the first world is fully vaccinated. Thankfully, India, being the worldwide hub for vaccine manufacture, is much better placed in this respect.

Jim O’Neill, chair of the UK think tank Chatham House, had remarked disparagingly, on a TV show in March 2020: “Thank God, this didn’t start in somewhere like India.” However, statistics bear out that we have defied all such apprehensions to a large extent; our handling of the pandemic has been much better than that of many countries including the US and UK, which is poised to go under another lockdown. Sadly, most of the deaths in the US and Europe have been of the aged living in old-age homes that lack proper healthcare. Here, again, our unique Indian tradition of parents staying with their children appears to have limited deaths of old people from Covid-19.

The rising numbers of new infections has created a fear psychosis in the country, but a simple analysis would show that the chances of a person staying alive even after testing positive for Covid-19, are approximately 99.9 per cent. After noticing that deaths due to Covid-19 were not even 1 per cent of the active cases on any given day and that the number of new cases was less than the number of persons discharged, we decided to study Covid-19 statistics closely with the help of two metrics: (i) the Daily Survival Rate, defined as the chance that someone who is among the Covid-19 active cases on a given day would survive on that day; and (ii) The Patient Load which is the number of new positive cases added in a day divided by the number of cases recovered on the same day.

The broken line in the Figure 1, an ad hoc fit, shows a clearly increasing trend from 25 August onwards. Significantly, the value of the Daily Survival Rate is strikingly high at around 99.885 per cent in the past two weeks and has touched 99.895 per cent on two occasions (on days 148 and 169, i.e. 31 August and 21 September). Figure 2 shows the Patient Load, from 27 August, which was nearly 1.25 new patients for every recovered patient up to 18-19 September (our day 167) when it became less than 1 and has shown a clear declining trend thereafter; coming down to 0.74 on 21-22 September.

We can thus conclude that the daily chance of a person surviving after being infected with Covid-19 is not only very high but is also increasing steadily, which shows that our health system is now coping better with the pandemic. As the number of daily fresh infections is now less than the number of persons who are recovering from Covid-19 infections, our resources would not fall short in tackling the pandemic.

It is important to appreciate the promising nature of these results in the light of: (a) the number of positive cases escalating in the month of September, (b) the general state of our health care system being far from perfect, and (c) safety norms being routinely flouted by almost everyone. We should now follow a simple strategy: Work on people’s minds, reassuring them that the chances of dying of Covid-19 are infinitesimal, and their chances of getting infected would be drastically reduced if they observed elementary precautions like wearing masks and maintained physical distancing and personal hygiene.

Another heartening feature is that the Government and public both are now fully aware of the dangers of a sub-optimal healthcare sector; in fact the quality of healthcare has improved during the course of the pandemic. Also, hopefully, this pandemic, like earlier pandemics, would run its course in the next few months, and leave our shores for a Corona-free 2021.

The writers are, respectively, Emeritus Professor of Physics and former Pro-Vice Chancellor, University of Hyderabad and retired Principal Chief Commissioner of Income-Tax