On Monday, India recorded 22,022 new cases of the coronavirus disease. Case numbers typically take a hit on Mondays owing to low testing over the weekend, but the last Monday on which the country recorded fewer than 22,022 cases was back on June 29 (18,318 cases).
India saw 352 deaths from Covid-19 on Monday. The last Monday on which it saw fewer deaths was back on June 22 (311 deaths).
Click here for complete Covid-19 coverage
India’s Covid-19 numbers have clearly taken a turn for the better — as the charts accompanying this piece show.
Why is this happening?
Let’s start with why it is not happening. Inadequate testing — this columnist’s favourite bugbear, as many have pointed out — is not the reason. On Monday, India conducted 993,665 tests. On the Sunday before (December 13), it did 855,157. On Monday, June 29, it conducted 210,292 tests; and on the Sunday before (June 28), it did 170,560.
Nor is it that some states and Union territories are depending overly on the wrong kind of tests. Both Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, to name just two, have increased the number of Reverse Tanscription-Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) tests they conduct. These molecular tests are considered the gold standard in testing and are far more accurate than rapid antigen tests (which still account for a majority of the tests conducted by Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, although their proportion of the whole has decreased). Bihar still continues to depend on rapid antigen tests, though.
So, what could explain the sharp fall in case and death numbers? The current seven-day average of cases is 28,827, 72.6% of what it was on December 1, 63.2% of what it was on November 1, and 37.8% of what it was on September 1. India has 333,392 active cases currently, 59.1% of the number of active cases on November 1, and 35.3% the number on October 1.
One possible explanation is that there is better adherence to safety protocols such as the wearing of masks and social distancing. If everyone wore masks in every situation where it made sense for them to (and not just in every situation where they were required to), the number of infections is bound to fall sharply — and India could well be seeing some of that.
Another is that with around 143 million people possibly exposed to and infected by the virus — this number is arrived at by assuming a 0.1% infection fatality rate and working backwards from the around 143,000 deaths India has seen to date — immunity levels in the population are high enough to ensure a fall in the number of infections. This number, 143 million, translates into an 11% exposure at the aggregate level — a proportion which is likely to be much higher in urban areas and much lower in remote rural areas. And given that there is a strong possibility of some under-reporting of deaths, the actual levels may be higher. For instance, 200,000 deaths would translate into 200 million infections, and an exposure level of almost 15%.
Also Read| India bucking global trend but must keep its guard up in Covid fight: Officials
A third, and this is a more speculative explanation than the other two, is that the virus has infected most of the people susceptible to infection — we know that not everyone exposed to the virus is infected; and that not everyone infected becomes a transmitter — and that as it jumps from person to person, it is increasingly coming in touch with people who do not get infected. This would mean some pre-existing protection — perhaps from previous coronavirus infections or exposure to other viruses; or perhaps from something such as the BCG vaccine, something most Indians are administered in childhood, and which, research has shown, does offer some protection against Covid-19, or at least lessens the severity of the infection.
All three explanations are mere theories at this point — there could be more such — but we’re having to think along these lines simply because India’s trajectory of infections is otherwise almost inexplicable.