May 1: 69; April 30: 76; April 29: 69; April 28: 74; April 27: 58; April 26: 51; April 25: 46; April 24: 57; April 23: 38; April 22: 39.
These numbers are the death tolls of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in India on the 10 days between April 22 and May 1.
On May 2, the number was 98.
The total death toll in India was 1,319 on Saturday.
In some ways, this is the only number to track. In the absence of a lockdown, the number of infections would have definitely soared, as would have the death toll.
I have written previously about how data from both Mumbai and Delhi shows that the number of non-Covid-19 deaths has reduced during the lockdown. I have also written about just how difficult it will be to hide a death from that most omnipresent thing in India — a mobile phone camera. This would suggest that the number of deaths is a good metric of just how India is handling the pandemic.
There’s another reason to keep tracking this number. Most diseases are so well understood that we can work backwards from the number of deaths to find the number of those affected or infected. We don’t know enough about Covid-19 now, and the widely varying fatality rates around the world are of no help — not when, as both The New York Times and Financial Times have pointed out, based on their own analysis, the actual number of deaths from Covid-19 was much higher than those attributed to the disease. India wasn’t covered by either.
But this ignorance won’t last. We already know more about the disease than we did a month back, and every day seems to bring new answers. It also brings new questions, as it should with a disease of as recent vintage as this. In a column in The New York Times written in mid-April, Charlie Warzel asked some of these questions. More have been added to that list since (and some have been answered).
Eventually, we will know enough about the disease to arrive at a range, a narrow one, for the death rate. And then work backwards from that.
My guess is that the death rates are nowhere close to what’s being reported. The current global death rate is 7.02% of all infected people. That’s far too high. The real number is likely to be anything between 1% and 3% (again, this is a guess, not science). But this would mean that the actual number of infected people is much higher — which is plausible.
That’s actually another reason to track deaths, not number of cases.
The death tallies for the week before April 22 in India were as follows: April 21: 54; April 20: 32; April 19: 39; April 18: 32; April 17: 40; April 16: 24; April 15: 33.
Over the past forthright, then, the number of deaths has seen a steady increase but the numbers are not alarming — not yet. They are closer to Germany’s trajectory than they are to, say, that of the US.
The worrying thing is that most countries have seen the number of deaths per day follow what’s called a hockey-stick curve — gradual curve upwards, and then a steep rise. Which is why it makes sense to watch the number of daily deaths in India, especially over the next two weeks.
In more cheerful news, it turns out that Gilead’s Remdesivir, a failed hepatitis and Ebola drug, may well be a cure for Covid-19. A study in the US found that it accelerated recovery rates, although it didn’t have a huge impact on death rates (it had some). Still, that promise was enough for the US Food and Drug Administration to allow the use of the drug on Covid-19 patients.