Govt says lockdown averted 78,000 deaths, but cases have surged in 5 states since lifting of curbs

After drawing flak for an earlier modelling estimate that showed India’s new cases would plummet to zero by May 16, 2020, the Centre today has shared five modelling estimates by different organisations to say the lockdown had prevented millions of cases and thousands of deaths.

By May 15, between 1.4 million and 2.9 million COVID-19 cases had been averted, as had 37,000 to 78,000 deaths, said Pravin Srivastava, secretary, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MOSPI).

Other estimates prepared by the consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG), the public-private Public Health Foundation of India and two groups of independent economists and experts show similar gains, with BCG’s projecting the highest -- between 3.6 and 7 million cases, and 120,000 to 210,000 deaths. PHFI estimates the deaths averted at 78,000.

“In a pandemic like COVID, there is no parallel available directly,” said Srivastava, “So we are learning as we are going. And the data itself is showing that the lockdown has had an impact.”

80% active cases in 5 states

More than 80% of the active COVID-19 cases are in five states and 60% in five cities, Paul said, implying that the nationwide lockdown had been successful in containing the spread.

The rate of increase in cases has also dropped from 22.6% on April 3 to 5.5% on May 15, he said. However, given the larger base, even the smaller percentage increase is leading to many more cases every day than at the beginning of the lockdown--on four days this week, more than 5,000 cases have been reported, and three days have recorded the highest single-day increase so far, as per Coronavirus Monitor data.

After 40 days of a nationwide lockdown--estimated to be among the world’s most stringent as per the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker--India began to lift restrictions in a phased manner starting May 3, when curbs were lifted in lesser affected areas. Since then, the rate of increase in cases has been a steady 5-7%.

Reverse migration

At least five states--Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar, Tripura and Karnataka--with fewer than 1,000 cases on May 3, have reported a surge since, data show.

Bihar: It was the 15th worst-affected state on May 3 with 482 cases, reported a three-fold increase in cases thereafter and now has 1,982 cases. Almost a half of these have been reported in the last week.

The state accounts for 15% of migrant workers in major cities; it tested 8,337 returning migrants, its principal health secretary tweeted. Of these, 651 (8%) tested positive. Over 2 million migrants have returned to their home states in Shramik Special trains since May 1.

Karnataka: On May 20, the state reported its highest daily increase in cases at 151, as per ministry data. It was the first time the state reported more than 100 cases. Of the 497 cases in the last four days, 79.3% (394) had a history of inter-state travel.

Odisha: Its COVID-19 cases have increased six-fold since May 3 from 160 to 1,103.

West Bengal: Cases increased from 922 to more than 3,000 in the same time period.

Tripura: It had four cases on May 3, now has 173.

‘Zero’ cases

The prediction that India would not report new cases by May 16 was incorrect, reported on May 16. India recorded 3,970 additional COVID-19 cases on May 16, bringing the total number of active cases in the country to 53,035.

The number of new cases had been decreasing and what was shown was a trendline, said V.K. Paul, chairperson of the empowered group 1 and the National Task Force on COVID-19, “We did not claim to show zero cases [by May 16]”.

“I apologise” if there was a misunderstanding, he added.

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