Rising ‘positivity’ means infections yet to peak PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 06 July 2020 00:00
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With ‘positivity’ levels – new infections as a share of new tests – continuing to rise, India is far from its peak, a point made by ICMR scientist Nivedita Gupta more than a month ago at a press conference. On June 3, when Gupta made her statement, India had a positivity rate of 6.5% – itself a jump over 3.8% on May 3 – and that has now gone up to 9.1%.

And this is when India is testing over 2.3 lakh persons today as compared to 1.4 lakh on June 3 and 70,000 on May 3. Indeed, in Covid-19 hotspots like Delhi and Mumbai – they account for, respectively, 15% and 13% of infections – positivity rates are even higher at 12% and 24%.

That India’s positivity should be rising, though, is no surprise since actual infection levels are far greater than what the tests show; so each time there is more testing, it throws up more infections. An all-India sero-survey done in May, for instance, showed 0.7% of the population – that’s around one crore persons – had Covid-19 at some point; with the conventional RT-PCR tests showing just 6 lakh infections so far, there’s a long way to go. This part of the survey, as it happens, was not done in hotspot areas like Delhi and Mumbai which, at that point, accounted for 31% of India’s infections. Unconfirmed reports of the ongoing sero-survey in Kolkata indicated much higher infection levels of around 14%.

In other countries like the US and Russia which have more infections than India, by contrast, positivity rates began to decline 40 days days ago; it is not clear what Brazil’s positivity rates are as its testing data is not available. Both the US and Russia test a lot more than India does – Russia has done 136 tests per thousand people, the US 97 and India a mere 6.4 – but even then, their positivity is much lower than India’s (see graphic). While India’s positivity rate is 9.1%, that for Russia is 2.4% and 7% for the US.

To put this in perspective, if India were to conduct as many tests as Russia has in absolute terms – 3 lakh per day – India would add 27,000 infections daily instead of the 19,000 that are added right now. If India’s tests-per-thousand were to reach Russia’s levels of 136, infections would go up 22 times.

But even with lower levels of testing, India is fast catching up to Russia. It is expected to surpass Russia on July 6, and will have the 3rd-highest number of infections; on July 6, India will have 6.9 lakh infections versus Russia’s 6.8 lakh.


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