It’s not so bad: Use the right lens to understand the Covid numbers

Lokeshwarri S K Chennai | Updated on October 07, 2020

Rather than cumulative cases, pay attention to recoveries and active cases

The headlines scream — ‘Total number of Covid cases in India crosses 67 lakh’, ‘India now moves to the second spot among countries with most cases’, ‘Total deaths cross one lakh’.

These large numbers are causing a stir as they seem to indicate that the pandemic situation is spinning out of control. But that is not true. If we look at the numbers from the right perspective, they do not really appear that scary.

Where numbers mislead

Looking at the cumulative number of cases since the pandemic began has become the norm as the numbers are large enough to create a panic. But when it is said that the total number of cases in the world is 3,60,76,895, or that the total number of cases in India is 67,57,131, it does not mean that these many people are currently infected. These numbers include all those who have been sick in the last few months and have recovered.

India’s recovery rate, at 85 per cent, is well above the global rate of 75 per cent. Similarly, its fatality rate, at 1.5 per cent, is well below the global rate of 2.9 per cent.

If we adjust the recovered cases and those cases that resulted in fatality, the number of active cases in India currently is 9,07,847.

Of these active cases, almost 80 per cent are asymptomatic, according to experts. That narrows down the number of people with symptoms to 1,81,569. Of these, serious or critical cases, at this juncture, are 8,944. This means that of the active cases, less than 1 per cent are critical.

Pay attention to recoveries

It is therefore important to pay attention to the recovery rate. As the recovery rate increases, the number of active cases reduces, signalling that the pandemic is under control.

India’s recovery rate, at 85 per cent, is far superior to the US’ 64 per cent. This suggests the disease could be far more virulent there.

India’s recovery rate crossed 70 per cent in August and has been inching higher steadily. The all-India numbers could, however, be marred by those of a few States such as Maharashtra and Karnataka, where the recovery rate is lower, at around 80 per cent.


In some States, such as Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, over 90 per cent of those who tested positive have recovered. Active cases in these States is therefore less than 9 per cent of the cumulative number.

Similarly, there is variation is the recovery percentage between cities. While Pune, Bengaluru and Mumbai have recovery rates between 77 and 83 per cent, the proportion of recovery is much stronger in Chennai, above 90 per cent.

Percentage of population

Another metric where India appears better placed compared to other countries is in the number of cases as a percentage of the population. Even if we consider the cumulative infections as a percentage of our population, in India, less than 0.5 per cent of the population has been infected so far since the beginning of the outbreak.

It is due to the incidence being higher in metro cities that the disease appears all-pervasive. When we look at the total number of cases as per million of population, India’s number, at 4,884, is quite low compared to the US, Brazil, Russia and Colombia.

Similarly, deaths per million population in India, at 76, is also quite low.

While it is certain that there is a pandemic afoot that has caused serious distress to several and has resulted in many bereavements, when the right lens is used, it may not look so scary.

Published on October 07, 2020

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