COVID-19 In A Wider Perspective

Bharat Dogra

As the media has been highlighting the number of COVID-19 infections on a daily basis, July 17 was a special day as the number of COVID-19 cases crossed the one million mark on this day in India. This fact was dutifully headlined all over the media.

However, another way of expressing the same fact would have been to say that less than 0.1 per cent of the population of India has been infected by COVID-19, as per official data. This would have given people a better sense of the wider perspective as conveyed by existing data.

Of course, the number of infections can easily be much higher than what official data tells us, but then it should be added that while calculating the fatality rate (dividing the number of deaths by the number of infections), if the number of infections goes up, the fatality rate comes down. So, if the number of cases is shown to be higher, then the fatality rate would be shown as lower (compared to the official data).

While media concentrated more on this day on the official figure for COVID cases crossing one million, the importance of the mortality figure on this day was missed out. The number of COVID deaths shown on this day (July 17) as the sum total of all COVID deaths so far was 25609. This is a little less than the number of deaths due to all causes in a single day in India. So, another way of giving the same data would have been to say that after about 170 days the total number of COVID mortality as given in official data is less than the total mortality by all causes in a single day in India. The total number of COVID deaths as a percentage of total deaths in India during the last 170 days (since COVID deaths started taking place) is much less than 1 per cent, it is close to 0.6 per cent (covering the period Jan. 30 to July 17 2020).


Similarly, at the world level the number of infections on this day was reported to be 140 million, which works out to about 0.2 per cent of world population. The total number of COVID-19 deaths over a period of about 7 months added up to around 0.6 million thousand deaths. The total number of deaths from all causes in a year in the world is 56 million so for 7 months this would be around 33 million.  In other worlds during the last 7 months, since COVID mortality started in the world, the number of COVID deaths have been less than 2 per cent of total deaths from all causes.

Actually, the number of deaths is less than the official estimates given above as there have been many cases of patients suffering from more than one disease (co-morbidity) along with COVID, but the death getting recorded as COVID -19 death even though the other disease may have played a more important role. This has been reported from several countries, including Italy and the USA.  

All human lives are precious, and death by any cause is a huge tragedy. However, for the sake of proper policy, it is very important to have a sense of perspective on COVID-19 so that the response is based on the real situation, neither an overestimate not an underestimate.

The writer is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements.

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Jul 19, 2020

Bharat Dogra

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