Hello and welcome to The Moving Curve. I’m Rukmini, a data journalist based in Chennai. Every night on this mini-cast, I consider one question around the novel coronavirus epidemic in India. Tonight I’m asking this question — what explains the differing trajectories of the virus in Indian states?
It’s Day 87 of the novel coronavirus epidemic in India, and we are reporting 26,917 cases with 826 deaths. Tonight I want to look at the huge differences in the situations in Indian states and try to understand why this is the case. To explain some of the points I’m making in this mini-cast, I’ve made some graphs that I’ve put up in the Medium piece that accompanies this.
To start with the basics — the first case, as we know was discovered in Kerala, which in the first few weeks led the country in terms of cases. Soon after, the number of cases began to grow rapidly in Maharashtra, which has remained the state with the largest number of cases for over a month and a half now, with no sign of it abating.
In absolute numbers, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu are the top two states in terms of tests conducted. Proportionate to their populations, however, Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and Jammu & Kashmir are the only states that have so far tested more than one person for every 1000 people in their populations. Among the states at the bottom of that list are West Bengal, Bihar and Jharkhand which have tested just 1 person for every 1 lakh people in their populations.
Then there is the question of whether states appear to be testing the right people. One measure for this is the Test Positivity Rate that I discussed in Episode 25. On its own, it is an indicator that is at the same time too simple and too complex to tell you anything useful. So the fact that Delhi and Maharashtra have the highest test positivity rates could just mean that they’re identifying the right people to test. But when you’re a state with a very low testing ratio, and a high TPR, then there’s a bit of possible trouble, if the few people you are testing are still testing positive at quite a high rate. That’s the situation in Gujarat to some extent, but most prominently in West Bengal.
And finally, there’s the issue of mortality rates. As I have said in previous episodes, there are definite problems with our ability to count the dead. But going by what we know right now, there are considerable differences in the mortality rates of states relative to how recently their first case was discovered.
And then there is the issue of which states are flattening their curves, and which are some distance away, which will have a huge impact on planning for lifting lockdowns.
There’s going to be a lot more to discuss on the differences between states in the days to come. For tonight — thank you for listening. This episode was edited by Anand Krishnamoorthi. Tomorrow — a new question.