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France vs Gujarat: Coronavirus and how India’s superstar performance in high recovery and low mortality is being ignored

There is a lesson here for policymakers, the media and the general public. The virus has hit us hard, but on many counts, our performance has been stellar.

Even at the best of times, the world finds it hard to give enough credit to India. These are the worst of times. The United States and Western Europe have been brought to their knees by Coronavirus. This is not a time when people are in a mood to give credit to India. This is a time when the rest of the world is raw, licking its wounds and at some level, hoping for a terrible tragedy in India to boost their bruised ego.

Let me show you this headline, from British media:

Article from Independent

Horror story of virus mismanagement

As this headline makes clear, at the time this was written, on March 13, India’s death toll from the virus stood at: ONE!

Some people were surely in a hurry to write India off.

But if they were looking for bodies piling up in the streets, it didn’t happen. But the virus didn’t go away either. The pandemic kept making its way through India’s vast population. In the last few days, the headlines have become dire.

Highest ever, highest anywhere in the world, fastest growing…

The headlines keep coming as the world watches India slowly make headway to displacing the United States and Brazil from the top of the global Coronavirus table. One of these countries is the most powerful in the world. Both of them have a population that is below a quarter of India.

And domestic media has been lapping it all up. But how is India really doing? What is behind the “highest anywhere in the world” figure of 80,000 cases per day?

Well, for one, there is testing. India is testing at a capacity that is unmatched anywhere in the world. Regularly doing close to 12 lakh tests per day. For comparison, the highest the US ever did was 9.3 lakh tests in a day.

The COVID graph of the USA

Did I mention that the United States has a population only around one quarter of India?

As the same page from Johns Hopkins University will explain, the meaningful figure to watch is the percentage of tests that come back positive. For India, it is currently around 7.5%. For the United States, it is 5.5 – 6%. The comfort level for the WHO is a rate of 5% or less for 14 straight days.

So are we really that far? And does India really have the world’s fastest growing covid pandemic?

The Positive Rate

As you can see, most of South America is in deep red when it comes to share of test positives. In Mexico, it is 49.6%. That’s almost half. In Argentina, it is 55%. More than half! What about Brazil? Don’t ask because they don’t provide data. It’s 18% in Indonesia, 13% in South Africa, 9% in Spain and so on.

Does anyone seriously believe that the pandemic is growing faster in India than countries which are reporting 50-55% test positive rate?

Let’s not blame India because much of the rest of the world has adopted a “don’t ask don’t tell” policy towards the Coronavirus.

The test positive rate is only a beginning. There are two other crucial metrics on which India is delivering a superstar like performance.

These are recovery rate and mortality rate.

If you get the Coronavirus, wouldn’t you like to know if you will recover? Would you like to know if you are going to die? Sounds kind of important, right?

India’s recovery rate now stands at 77%. In other words, over 3/4 of people who got the virus have already recovered. How is the rest of the world doing?

Did you know that in France, just 87,000 of the 3 lakh people who caught Coronavirus have recovered so far? That’s not even 30%.

COVID metrics of France

Why pick France? For one, it is a highly developed Western European nation. Second, the healthcare system in France is ranked #1 in the whole world.

So let us go head to head with France and see how we match up.

France has a population of 67 million people. Gujarat has a population of 6.3 crore people. So how does France match up against Gujarat?

Yesterday, France reported 7000 cases of Coronavirus. Gujarat reported 1300 cases. So right off the bat, Gujarat scores over the country with allegedly the best healthcare system in the world.

In terms of total cases, Gujarat has reported 1 lakh cases and France has reported 3 lakh cases.

What about the recovery rate? Gujarat has a recovery rate of about 81%. And France has a recovery rate of 29%.

What about mortality? Gujarat has a mortality rate of 3%, with a total of 3000 deaths. In contrast, France has reported 30,000 deaths. Literally 10 times the number. That’s not happy news on any side, but surely we can notice that one number is 10 times bigger than the other.

In terms of test positives, France is currently at 3.6% and Gujarat at 1.7%. In other words, Gujarat is testing at a much higher volume than France.

Let us take a moment to absorb this information. Going head to head with France, Gujarat is ahead on every metric. And not just a little bit ahead. Miles ahead. They say France has the best healthcare in the world. And if eminent journalists like Rajdeep Sardesai are to be believed, Gujarat is among our worst-performing states when it comes to healthcare.

So if our “worst” are so much better than the best in the world, could we be doing that badly?

This is not just the case with Gujarat. Many other states have similarly amazing records when you go head to head with European countries. Most of our big states have populations comparable to major Western European nations.

There is a lesson here for policymakers, the media and the general public. The virus has hit us hard, but on many counts, our performance has been stellar. Our healthcare system doesn’t have even a fraction of the funding and facilities that a country like France would have. But in time of the disaster, we pulled it together and performed in a way that beats pretty much everyone else.

Our recovery rate is sky high. Our mortality rate is super low.

We are testing on a scale bigger than what anyone can imagine. Our India and we should be proud of it.

We can deliver on a scale that other nations can only dream of.

The lesson for policymakers? With a handful of exceptions, end all the lockdowns: we have done well enough.

The lesson for media and people? End unnecessary pessimism. Let’s get to work restoring our economy.

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Abhishek Banerjee
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or may not be an Associate Professor at IISc Bangalore. He is the author of Operation Johar - A Love Story, a novel on the pain of left wing terror in Jharkhand, available on Amazon here.  

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