The number of COVID-19 positive cases in India nearing the six-digit mark has disproved an assessment by V.K. Paul, NITI Aayog member and head of a government-empowered committee on medical management.
On April 24, Mr. Paul, an internationally acclaimed paediatrician, made a presentation at the daily Health Ministry briefing, detailing how the lockdown helped to curtail the spread of the novel coronavirus. His presentation suggested that the first lockdown had prevented India from seeing a 1,00,000 cases in April. It had also slowed the rate of transmission and increased the doubling time, the period it took for cases to double, to about 10 days.
However, included in this was a PowerPoint slide that projected the benefits from “extending the lockdown” beyond April 15. This had a curve showing the number of active cases plummeting to zero by May 16.
From May 3, India would hit its peak in adding daily new cases at a little above 1,500, and this would drop to 1,000 cases by May 12, and down to zero by May 16, this curve showed. The Hindu reported, on April 25, that members of his own committee didn’t agree with that assessment.
While the presentation was made available to the media and heavily criticised on social media, electronic copies of that slide no longer appeared to show the questionable curve in new cases declining to zero.
Mr. Paul was since quoted by The Caravan as saying that the curve was only meant to show a “trend”, but he has never explained the rationale behind the assessment. He has not responded to repeated requests by The Hindu for comment.
For a decline in the national average, experts have said, there will have to be a flattening in new cases that lasted over two weeks in key States such as Gujarat, Maharashtra and West Bengal that were fuelling the rise in numbers. “So far, there is no such evidence of a decline. So I don’t know the basis of that forecast. We are planning, in terms of keeping ventilators, beds, ICU facilities ready on the assumption that this will last much longer,” a member had then told The Hindu.
Since April 27, there has not been a day when India has posted fewer than 1,500 cases, and the number has steadily increased to over 3,000 a day. On Sunday, India reported nearly 5,000 cases over a 24-hour period. To be sure, doubling time has improved and testing rates, too, have significantly increased, with Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan claiming that India is now testing nearly 1,00,000 samples a day. India’s test positivity rate remains at around 4%, meaning 4 of 100 samples are turning up positive. However, this varies within the States.