As it crosses a million cases of the coronavirus disease, India accounts for 7.14% of the people around the world who have been infected by the Sars-CoV-2 virus, and 4.26% of the people who have succumbed to the disease. It also accounts for 8.1% of the people who have recovered. Its lower share of deaths (compared to cases) and higher share of those recovered means the country hasn’t done too badly (relatively), but as a friend, with whom I shared this sentiment, said: “Try telling that to the 25,000 people who have died – or their families.” Numbers, unfortunately, can’t capture the pain.
Six months is all it has taken for Covid-19 to upend all plans for 2020, disrupt lives and livelihoods, and prematurely usher in a future for which not everyone is ready, and which comes with its own set of inequalities. Still worse, its impact on people is directly related to current inequalities – most notably around income, class, and gender. The poorest and the most vulnerable have been hit the hardest, and there are fears that millions may slip back into the poverty from which they emerged only recently. Even among businesses, it is the smaller ones, already weakened by the rush to formalise the economy over the past four years, that have borne the brunt.
Around 55.7% of India’s first million cases are from Delhi, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu. That trend is already waning, though. On Wednesday, only 44% of the new cases came from the two states and the Capital. On Tuesday, only 43% did. And on Monday, a little less than 43% did. While it is true that we are still seeing the first wave of infections at the national level, and cases could spike again in Delhi, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu, I believe what we are beginning to see now is the end (or the beginning of the end) of the first phase of the virus’s run in India.
Since April, the two states and the Capital have accounted for a large proportion of the cases in India. In early April, the three accounted for 50% of new cases, a proportion that fluctuated sharply that month, but then rose again to around 50% by the end, then hovered between 50% and 70% (yes, it went that high) in May and June. On June 22, the two states and the Capital accounted for 69.3% of new cases. That was the peak. Since then, the share of the three in daily new cases has been falling. It was around 60% in early July.
Eight states are in line to take over: Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Karnataka, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal. Together, they accounted for 42% of the new cases on Wednesday. This is a proportion that has been the rise since July 1, when they accounted for just 29.3% of new cases.
Together, they also account for around 55% of India’s population.
Could the run of the coronavirus disease through these states mark India’s second phase?
It could, and that should raise red flags everywhere. The quality of public health care in some of these states (as reflected in their development indicators) is a cause for concern. But this group is problematic for another reason – it has states that have the worst record when it comes to testing, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, even Gujarat. As they start testing more, they will discover new cases, which means their share of the daily new cases could rise even more and even faster – at the current doubling rate, India could reach two million cases in the second week of August.