It is still far too early to be certain but the latest trends suggest that the Covid situation in India may be improving marginally.
*’R’ Effective: Perhaps the key measurement that most nations focus on is the effective ‘R’. The level of ‘R’ indicates how infectious the coronavirus is – i.e. how many other people are infected by one Covid patient. The good news is that ‘R’ in India has steadily come down – from 1.19 only two weeks ago to 1.07 on August 8. This is a welcome trend if it continues. We are of course still some way away from R falling below 1.0 – which must be the aim.
*Rate of Increase in New Cases: The percentage increase every day in new cases is now hovering at 3 per cent or so – down from the alarming 4 per cent just two weeks ago. And it is showing some signs of deceleration – but many factors could cause this to change.
However, there is little doubt that this current rate of increase of 3 per cent daily is still far, far too high – it is much higher than global levels – in fact, India’s daily growth rate at 3 per cent is twice that of Brazil and almost three times higher than the USA.
Consequently, it is crucial that this current, and welcome, deceleration, from 4 per cent to 3 per cent in the span of two weeks, must continue.
*The Positivity Rate: Perhaps the most heartening change is the slight but perceptible drop in the positivity rate percentage (the number of people who test positive out of every 100 tests). While it is still far too high at 10 per cent – this is much better than the earlier rising trend two weeks ago when it hit 12 per cent. Ten per cent is still crazily high and needs to come down – no room for complacency. In fact, the positivity rate in most other nations is much lower than ours.
* Test, test, test: Another positive development is that the number of tests are at around 6.0 lakhs per day. This needs to rise to above 1million tests a day fast. But even at this level it is way better than just two weeks ago when it hovered around 3.5 lakhs per day.
A few other factors could however dampen any optimism.
First, the lower growth in new cases detected could be partially due to the unfortunate rise in Rapid Antigen Testing (RAT). The increase in the number of tests to over 6 Lakhs a day is mainly because of more and more Antigen tests (RAT) and fewer RT-PCR tests. Antigen tests are very unreliable and report a large number of ‘false negatives’ (i.e. RAT says you do not have the virus when in fact you do).
It is as simple as this: Antigen tests should not be included in the total number of tests carried out – Antigen tests are misleading and bad for policy decisions.
Delhi is just one example of the disturbing current trend of increasing the number of Antigen tests (RATs) – at the cost of reducing the number of the more reliable PCR tests.
A second note of caution is that the lower positivity rate could be due to a change in the kind of people opting to be tested. Earlier it was mainly those with symptoms who got themselves tested. Now there are many other reasons to get tested, even if there are no symptoms at all: for example, before taking a flight, the need to be tested before going back to work, etc.
Finally, the use of more RAT rather than PCR tests is essentially a change in methodology of testing – and this may affect the computation of the “R” effective rate too.
*The bottom line: while there are many factors that lead to uncertainty in data trends on Covid19 – and the situation can change for the worse at any time with another spike – nevertheless, the situation today does not seem to be quite as bleak as it was perhaps only two weeks ago. We are watching the daily trends and will report on any changes for better or for worse. Watch this space !