The Moving Curve: Episode 36

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 considering this question — is India an outlier compared to the rest of the world?

In absolute terms, India has the 15th highest number of cases in the world, and the 18th highest number of officially reported deaths. However proportionate to its population, India is nowhere really in the list of the top several countries. We are 47th from bottom in terms of cases relative to population, and 34th from the bottom in terms of deaths relative to population. So yes, in these basic terms, India is very much an outlier.

With high population and low deaths, India is the outlier on this chart

There’s also another indicator on which India is an outlier — testing. Only 30 out of the 174 countries for which data is available have a lower rate of testing than India. At 559 tests for every one million people, India is conducting far fewer tests than any major economy in the world.

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Data source: Worldometer

So at current levels, India would appear to be something of an outlier, but here’s another problem: India is not yet flattening the curve in terms of the number of new cases every day, or the number of new deaths, so it’s hard yet to tell where India’s graph is going to end up. The economist Prof. Shamika Ravi who I’ve spoken to on this podcast earlier puts out daily graphs on Twitter with an India focus. If you look at the graph of the number of confirmed cases in India relative to hotspot countries, you can see that India did not have the quick early spike that so overwhelmed countries like Italy and the US. However for the Indian line to remain under these other countries, the number of new cases every day will have to start slowing down fast, and there isn’t yet evidence of that happening. And then there are countries that have flattened or even depressed the curve at much lower levels of the spread of the disease, including South Korea, Japan, New Zealand and Australia.

One thing that has set India apart is that we locked down early and our lockdown is among the strictest in the world, based on an index developed by the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford.

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Source: Financial Times

The Financial Times journalist John Burn-Murdoch has shown that there is a strong correlation between locking down early in your outbreak and your subsequent death toll being lower.

For now, India is an outlier, but conditions apply.

Thank you for listening. This episode was edited by Anand Krishnamoorthi. Tomorrow — a new question.

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I am a data journalist based in Chennai, India.

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