COVID-19 Briefing: 'India Far From Peak, No Community Transmission,' Says Health Ministry

As many as 8,171 new cases took the number of infections to over 1.98 lakh in India on Tuesday.

New Delhi: India is far away from the peak of the COVID-19 graph and its preventive measures have been “very effective”, putting it in a much better position in comparison with other countries, the Centre said on Tuesday, even as the case count and death toll continued to mount.

Addressing a press conference on the COVID-19 situation, joint secretary in the Health Ministry Lav Agarwal said it is wrong to just look at the total number of cases and state that India has the “seventh highest number of cases” as the population of countries also should be taken into account.

About 14 countries with a cumulative population almost equal to that of India have reported 55.2 times more COVID-19 deaths, he said.

“Our COVID-19 fatality rate of 2.82% and amongst the lowest in the world, compared to a global fatality rate of 6.13%. We have been able to achieve this due to timely identification of cases and proper clinical management,” Agarwal said.

He also said that India’s COVID-19 case fatality rate per lakh population is 0.41% as against 4.9 per cent globally which is also amongst the lowest in the world.

While the health ministry is keen to highlight India’s fatality rate and use it to indicate comparative success in controlling the spread of the disease, Devesh Kumar, in his detailed analysis for The Wire, notes that more than 100 countries in total and eight countries in the top 20 (including Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan) have a lower case fatality rate than India.

The fatality rate is also not a good indicator to show the success of the lockdown, as governments can easily fudge it by not adding the comorbidity deaths, Kumar says.

Also read: COVID-19: Is India Really Doing ‘Better’ than Other Countries?

One in every two COVID-19 deaths in India has been of senior citizens who constitute 10% of the total population, while 73% of COVID-19 deaths in the country are of people with co-morbidities, he said.

“In ‘Unlock 1’ situation, we have to follow COVID-appropriate behaviour to live with the virus by taking adequate precautions,” Agarwal said.

Asked if India has entered the community transmission phase, Indian Council of Medical Research scientist Nivedita Gupta, who was also present at the briefing, said, “Instead of using the word community transmission, it is important to understand the extent of spread of the disease and where do we stand in comparison with other countries.”

ICMR is conducting a sero-survey to assess the extent of spread of COVID-19 and almost 34,000 people are being tested as a part of it. The results will be out in the public domain by the end of this week or early next week, she said.

When asked when the peak will arrive, Gupta said, “We are very far away from the peak. Our preventive measures to curtail the disease are very effective and we are better positioned in comparison with other countries. You will get to see the data in a week.”

An outbreak is said to peak when the total number of daily new cases (or deaths) reaches its highest point, and begins to decline thereafter.

As Priyanka Pulla had noted in her piece where she cited Health joint secretary Lav Agarwal’s similar response to the question of the “peak”:

“[O]n all three occasions [when journalists had asked him on the approach of the peak], Agarwal said India could avoid the peak if people diligently practiced physical distancing. It doesn’t take an epidemiologist to understand the absurdity of this statement. Never reaching a peak only means the outbreak will continue indefinitely.

And the fact that he repeated this statement thrice suggests nobody bothered to correct him. Such carelessness with scientific terminology is why journalists have been asking for ICMR scientists to speak instead.”

The ICMR official said 1.20 lakh samples are being tested for COVID-19 on an average per day and at present there are 476 government and 205 private labs testing for the virus.

Responding to a question, she also said there was no under-reporting of COVID-19 deaths in India and states were doing causality assessment and attributing cause of death accordingly.

The novel coronavirus death toll rose to 5,598 in India on Tuesday with 204 more fatalities, while 8,171 new cases took the number of infections to over 1.98 lakh, the health ministry said.

The active cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) climbed to 97,581 and as many as 95,526 people have recovered and one patient has migrated, according to the data.

(With PTI inputs)