Friday, March 27, 2020

Need of the hour: Early detection and tackling the infection's epicenter.

By Kiron Kasbekar, Managing Director, Informachine Pvt. Ltd.

We are facing a serious crisis.

In an idle moment, I looked at the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resources Center survey numbers, and copied and analyzed the numbers. A bit of a pain because while they have given infections for China and the US in aggregates, the deaths are shown by city or state/province. So I had to copy and paste and add them up.

Anyway, then I analyzed the numbers for 12 countries, and found this. I ordered the deaths as a percentage of confirmed infections in ascending order in column D and others as a percentage of the Indian figure for column D, and got what you see in the table below.

Country Confirmed cases Deaths Death to Infection ration Others as % of India
Germany 47373 285 0.60 0.25
South Korea 9332 139 1.49 0.63
USA 86012 1301 1.51 0.64
India 843 20 2.37 1.00
Brazil 2988 77 2.58 1.09
China 81897 3296 4.02 1.70
UK 11816 580 4.91 2.07
France 29581 1698 5.74 2.42
Netherlands 7469 435 5.82 2.45
Iran 32332 2378 7.35 3.10
Spain 64059 4858 7.58 3.20
Italy 80589 8215 10.19 4.30

The low Korean numbers are explained by what South Korea did immediately after news of the infections in China broke. South Korea conducted more diagnostic tests faster than any other country – 10,000 to 15,000 per day – and that helped it with early detection of patients and tackling the infection's epicenter.

Germany has done even better. German laboratories have been conducting about 160,000 coronavirus tests every week — more than some European countries have carried out in total since the crisis started. Such mass testing has resulted in a lower fatality rate because it allows authorities to detect cases of Covid-19 even in patients who suffer few or no symptoms, and who have a much better chance of survival.

The key has been in detecting coronavirus cases early so that treatment and prevention of contagion can be better focused and strengthened.

Now look at the US and India. Very low numbers reported. But considering the dilly-dallying that happened in both these countries in tackling the pandemic, those low numbers probably conceal a time bomb of infections lurking in untested populations, and ready to strike and infect millions more.

India just does not have the capacity to treat so many patients, and the government has wasted the last two months dilly-dallying.

Now we face the prospects of severe shortages of essential commodities if quick, decisive, sensible action is not taken. This is a time when the government must create a united front of all major parties, get advice from economists and medical and technical experts to urgently stitch together a plan of action and begin implementation.

Responsible economists have talked of the need to invest many lakh crore rupees to support and subsidize food and housing as well as medical care. We are running against time.

Share with others if you agree — but let us not panic. While we need to recognize facts as they are and not live in an imaginary world, we need to be practical and avoid panic at all costs.

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