A team of government officials finally held a briefing on the Covid-19 outbreak on Wednesday, after a gap of eight days as highlighted in this IndiaToday.in report. During those eight days, India reported close to 40,000 new patients of the novel coronavirus, overtook China’s overall Covid-19 positive numbers, and crossed the psychological barrier of 1 lakh cases.

Still when the government briefed the media on the Covid-19 situation in India on Wednesday, the underlying message was: All is well, or ‘sab changa si’, to borrow the phrase that Prime Miniser Narendra Modi used to assure a gathering in Houston, US, last year about the health of Indian economy.

The health official addressing the briefing repeatedly assured that “we are placed better” than other coronavirus-affected countries. While the most people in the country are scared when they see their TV screens flash information on 1.07 lakh total cases of Covid-19, the health ministry official focused on the total number of “active” Covid-19 cases, emphasising on 61,149 (as on Wednesday).

This number is reassuring and over 45,000 less than the terrifying number that ends with a ‘lakh’. The health ministry official then added another figure — this one on the number of people infected for every one lakh population. It comes to 7.9 for India against the world average of 62.

Figures of 10 worst-affected countries by this yardstick were then shown in the graphic and tweeted by the Press Information Bureau (PIB). These countries have 115-496 people with coronavirus infection for every 1 lakh population.

This comparison is confusing as the ratio was less than 4 around two weeks ago when India crossed the 50,000-mark. New cases are rising in India at a great pace. The ratio is bound to change, and likely become higher, very quickly over the next few days.

The government briefing on Wednesday also gave an impression that only a few are dying of coronavirus infections in India. The government emphasised that against the global average of 4.2 deaths per one lakh population, India was reporting 0.2 deaths.

The government released a chart showing at least 14 countries with higher fatality rates. Nine of these countries have a Covid-19 fatality rate that is in double digits. But some of these countries — like the Netherlands, Spain and Italy among others — are also counting deaths taking place in homes. India counts only those deaths that take place in hospitals. Still, the Centre itself has doubted the transparency of data shared by some of the states.

As for the number of Covid-19 patients crossing 1 lakh-mark, the government officials point to 10 other countries that have reported more coronavirus cases and crossed the milestone before India.

“Comparing with 10 most affected countries, we find that six countries have reported more than 2 lakh Covid-19 cases (while India has 1.06 lakh cases) with as high as 14 lakh cases in an individual country,” the reporters were told at the briefing. The unnamed “individual” country is the United States, as a chart released by the PIB’s Twitter handle showed.

On deaths, the government argued that “while deaths are a matter of grief, we find that six countries have reported more than 10,000 Covid-19 deaths. Together with states and citizens, we have relatively been able to manage the situation.”

In another feel-good comparison, the government said 15 worst-affected countries combined have around the same population as India but have reported 34 times the Covid-19 cases and 83-fold more deaths. China is currently placed at 13 in the global tally of Covid-19 cases. The officials definitely excluded China in their calculation.

Another key argument supporting the “we are placed better” theory came from the recovery rate. The government said that when lockdown started, our recovery rate was 7.1 per cent which has now improved to almost 40 per cent.

However, this recovery rate flows from the very nature of the illness cause of coronavirus. With the passage of time, more patients will recover as Covid-19 is a mild illness for most patients. Also, India recently changed its discharge policy, making it more liberal.

For comparison with other countries, Mexico can present a good example. With less than 55,000 positive Covid-19 cases, it has more than 37,000 recovered patients against India’s 42,000 recovered cases from 1.06 lakh infections. For more interesting comparisons, you can see the figures of Iran, Turkey and Germany – all placed immediately above in the Worldometers table.

When the World Health Organisation (WHO) alerted the world about the novel coronavirus outbreak, and its spread, it laid down a formula to fight the virus: test, test, test. India has faced criticism for not testing enough. What that “enough” would be, however, remains undefined.

On Wednesday evening, the Indian Council for Medical Research said India has tested 25.36 lakh samples for Covid-19. It is, however, not clear how many of these tests were conducted for the same person – a patient.

Earlier, the government’s answer to criticism was to cite the ratio for tests per confirmed case. According to this data, India conducts about 24 tests for every positive Covid-19 case.

But there is another perspective to the same number of testing. While New Zealand tests over 48 samples per 1,000 population, the US almost 36, Germany 37 and the UK 28, India tests only 1.67 samples for coronavirus.

India has further tightened its testing protocol. Now, not all people with ILI – influenza like illness – will be tested. Rather, the government had advised testing for only those symptomatic people who have been in contact with a confirmed Covid-19 patient. This comes at a time when India is exiting from coronavirus lockdown and the absolute numbers of fresh Covid-19 cases are flying north. But the government says India is better placed than others.

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