Rajat Sharma

How timely enforcement of lockdown saved 54,000 to 78,000 lives in India

akb2301The surge in fresh COVID-19 cases in Delhi hit a new peak of 660 on Friday taking the total number to 12,319. This is the fourth peak in the capital in the last four days, even as the death toll has now touched 208. Nine more localities have been earmarked as containment zones.

The total number of COVID-19 cases in India on Friday reached 1,23,081, with nearly one-third (22,794) of all active cases recorded in the past four days alone. Of course, more than 50,000 people have recovered from this deadly disease till now.

Overall, there are five states which account for more than 80 per cent of COVID-19 cases in India. They are : Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Gujarat and Rajasthan. Maharashtra leads the tally with 44,582 cases, while Tamil Nadu, at second place, has recorded 14,753 cases,which is almost one-third compared to that of Maharashtra.

In the last few days, many people have been asking me about the benefits of lockdown that was enforced on March 25. People are questioning why the graph is rising if the lockdown was successful? Was it because there were fewer testings in the initial days and the figures at that time were on the lower side? When India completely control this pandemic? When will the graph curve turn flat? Have the relaxations given rise to the upward curve? When will Coronavirus reach its peak in India?

On Friday, the Centre presented various models to indicate that India averted an estimated 14 to 29 lakh Coronavirus cases and between 37,000 to 78,000 deaths due to timely enforcement of nationwide lockdown. A senior government official said, the lockdown did significantly reduce the speed at which the virus was spreading.

I spoke to several top ministers, renowned medical experts and scientists for a comparative assessment of the gains derived from the lockdown in India and the COVID-19 figures in developed countries. The first point that was made clearly was that, had the lockdown not been enforced on March 25, the number of COVID-19 positive patients in India today would have touched 24,50,000 and the death toll would have touched 72,000.

Nearly 23 lakh people were thus protected from infection and 68,000 lives were saved. Public Health Foundation of India has calculated that 78 thousand lives were saved, while Boston Consulting Group’s model claimed that 1.25 to 2.10 lakh lives were saved in the nick of time. The Ministry of Statistics and Indian Statistical Institute have in their study claimed that nearly 20 lakh Indians could have been infected and 54,000 lives could have been lost.

Now that COVID-19 cases are rising daily at the rate of 5,500-6,000, there appears to be some sort of panic and questions are being asked. Let me point out, on April 3, India had 22.6 per cent new cases per day, but after April 4, it has slowed down considerably and has now settled around 5.5 per cent.

If we look at the doubling rate, the figure was doubling in 3.4 days initially, but now the doubling rate is 13.3 days.

The virus is now mostly confined to five states. The largest number of cases are being reported from six big cities – Mumbai, Thane, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Chennai and Indore. More than 50 per cent of active cases are in these six cities.

The gains of lockdown are there for all to see.

Some naysayers say, the figures are on the lower side because of less number of testing. These doubts are based on false assumptions. In the last 24 hours, nearly one lakh tests were conducted. Till 1 pm on Friday, the total number of COVID-19 tests done in India was 27,55,714. Out of these, 18,287 tests were done in private labs and the rest in government labs.

Compare this with other countries. In USA 1,34,79,000 tests were done, out of which more than 16 lakhs were found positive. In Spain, more than 30 lakh tests were done, and 2,80,000 were found positive. In UK, 2.5 lakh tests were done and more than 30,000 were found positive.

The question that arises now is why is the number of patients is rising? Let me give the example of India’s most troubled hotspot – Mumbai. There were 27,068 cases in the city and 909 patients have died till now. There were 1,751 fresh cases on Friday and the daily death rate is in the range of 40-45 which occasionally touched 60.

India TV reporters tried to find out the causes behind the spurt in cases. The main reason seems to be densely populated localities which do not provide space for social distancing. The virus has spread in Dharavi, Govandi, Sion, BDD chawls and Kurla, and from there to Antop Hill, Kandivali, Juhu, Andheri, Koliwada and Jijamata Nagar. In Dharavi alone, more than 1,500 cases were detected. The virus is spreading fast to Thane, Pune, Akola and Nagpur.

Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation claims there is no dearth of hospital beds in Mumbai, while doctors say that most of the patients come only when their condition becomes critical. When visuals of bodies lying on hospital beds near patients go viral, the common man loses faith in the healthcare system.

In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Friday night, we showed how a Coronavirus patient had to walk to a hospital with his relatives because no ambulance was available. The man in Kalyan-Dombivali got a test done at a private lab and the report came positive. His relatives gave this information to hospitals and BMC officials, but nobody came forward to help. For 16 hours, the patient waited but no ambulance came. Such visuals raise question about the efficiency of our healthcare system.

The Mayor of Mumbai laid the blame on private ambulance operators. She said these private operators have been refusing to ferry COVID-19 patients to hospitals, though they have been offered PPE kits. Private operators, the Mayor said, are afraid and do not want their drivers and helpers to contract the virus. The state government had to convert hundreds of BEST buses into ambulances.

I find there is lack of trust between various groups that are involved in healthcare. Private ambulance operators, private hospital owners and doctors do not trust assurances given by BMC or state authorities.

There is no dearth of beds in Mumbai hospitals, big private hospitals have been asked to keep 80 per cent beds reserved for COVID-19 patients, nearly 25,000 private doctors who had stopped going to hospitals during lockdown, have been asked to rejoin. Scores of nurses hailing from other states have left their jobs, and the state government has now decided to induct nearly 17,000 health workers. There seems to be lack of communication and commitment among those who are working within the healthcare system.

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