With more than 83,000 cases, India has today overtaken China, the source of Coronavirus, in the total number of COVID-19 cases, and become the 11th country to do so.
As the daily addition of new patients hovers around the 4,000 mark, India has also emerged as home to the fifth fastest growing COVID-19 patient population in the world, behind the US, Brazil, Russia and Peru.
These dubious distinctions come as the country is starting to relax an eight week old lock-down, and has even restarted long-distance train services. Further expansion of railway services as well as the resumption of domestic air services are also on the cards. The railways, for example, was today reported to have decided to restart Island Express, the daily train from Kanyakumari to Bangalore via Kerala.
The shape of India’s COVID-19 curve is likely to cause particular concern among epidemic watchers.
While China saw a much faster ramp up in its COVID-19 infection — going from almost nothing to 80,000 in about 40 days — India has taken slightly longer — 45 days — to achieve the unpleasant milestone.
But what is of particular worry is that China managed to ‘flatten the curve’ roughly at the time it hit 80,000 cases.
In India’s case, the curve is anything but flat (see graphs above). While China added 202 fresh cases on March 1, the day when it crossed the 80,000 mark; India added 3,942 cases on the day it crossed the 80,000 mark (yesterday).
The most puzzling part of India’s viral transmission is that a painful and drastic shut-down imposed since late March seems to have failed in its primary objective.
China too imposed a lock-down in Hubei, the province that was hit by Coronavirus, on Feb 13, and saw almost text-book results.
As expected, China’s ‘curve’ of Coronavirus cases started flattening almost exactly two weeks after the lock-down was imposed. By March 1, the number of new cases added per day had fallen to around 200 from around 5,000 when the lock-down was imposed.
The biggest mystery, in case of India, is that the lock-down — which was almost as harsh as what was imposed in China — has not had any such impact.
While India was seeing around 100 new cases per day when the lock-down came into effect on March 25, that number has steadily increased throughout the lock-down period and is currently at the 4,000 mark.
For Indian policy makers, the numbers are as puzzling as they are frustrating.
This is because Coronavirus 2019 can only survive in a human body for about four to five weeks. Beyond that, it either kills its victim, or the body kills it.
In other words, the virus has to find a new victim within this window of four to five weeks. If not, its life-cycle will come to an end.
Lock-downs work on the above principle.
It was believed that if all Indians stay inside their homes for eight weeks — and do not come into close contact with any outsider — the country can, at one go, get rid of all the Coronaviruses that are ‘living’ within the population.
However, what happened was quite different. The virus was not only able to find new victims during the lock-down, it was able to find them at a faster and faster pace as the lock-down progressed, seemingly flying in the face of logic and science.
As a result, the lock-down failed to produce the expected result, except in a small number of states like Goa and Kerala.
Exhausted by the lock-down, the governments have now been forced to relax the curbs on economic activity and avoid possible deaths due to starvation.
The net result of all this is that India today stands at the fifth position as far as the growth of COVID-19 cases is concerned.
By adding around 4,000 cases per day, India has narrowly edged out the United Kingdom, and is well ahead of other hotspots like Italy, Spain and Turkey — where the number of new cases per day has fallen to between 900 to 2,000.
Only three countries, the United States (25,000-30,000 cases/day), Brazil (13,000-15,000) and Russia (10,000 cases/day) are clearly ahead of India at present.
Russia has already imposed strict curbs, and can be expected to bring down its viral transmission numbers under control in the next two weeks.
However, for the near future, the numbers are likely to remain elevated in Brazil and the US.
At the same time, the situation in India can take a sharp turn for the worse in coming days as the country relaxes the lock-down further and more and more people start going back to work.