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VATSANALYSIS

India is in a much better position than other countries – is Modi right about this Covid-19 claim?

If you like watching video more than reading – I have video-fied this blog – so you can just watch me explain my analysis below.


And now the original blog…

PM Modi made some claims this week.

The above video should play from 7:22. You will hear Modi claim the following:

  • India’s recovery rate is better than other countries
  • The death rate (%age of total cases who died) is less compared to most other countries
  • Losing even one life is a loss – but overall many lives have been saved
  • The danger of the virus is not yet over – we need to continue being alert (masks / social distancing / hand-washing / hygiene)

All of the above is true.

I want to make something clear though – the first three bullet points are basically the same point – when you are infected and you don’t die, what happens? You ‘recover’! So it goes without saying that high ‘recovery rate’ = low death %age = many lives saved. They are not three different things. But then Modi has always been overboard on ‘marketing’! Which politician isn’t?

Below quote is from next day – 27 Jul 2020.

You can hear him say the above quoted lines in the below video (that will play from 3:20).

And if you watch the video further, you will notice that Modi is citing the same parameters he did the day before – lower death %age – higher recovery rate.

Many Modi haters / bashers and far-left folks got extremely agitated.

How can Modi say we are doing better than most other countries, when today we clearly have the third highest case count globally?

Yes, India is indeed in top three if one looks at cases.

As on 30 Jul 2020 – WHO

Even if you consider total death toll, we are in top ten (no.6).

As on 30 Jul 2020 – WHO

But here’s the thing – neither Modi is lying nor the doubters are wrong.

The question really is – what is the right way to look at how a country is managing its Covid situation?

Modi assumes it is by looking at death rates (not total infection or total death toll). The anti-Modi camp wants the ‘total’ cases to be considered.

My general views in life often align with the anti-Modi camp but this time, I would side with Modi. I think it’s silly to look at total cases. Death is what really matters. If you don’t die, you just recover and move on with life!

With that, let’s revisit the death growth rate.

If for all the countries, one compares growth in total Covid deaths from the time when they all saw their first few deaths – below is what that the graph looks like:

Source: FT

You can see above that there are 6 countries (grey lines) between US and India where deaths grew much faster than India.

Out of the six, for two of them the total death toll continues to grow rapidly – Brazil & Mexico.

For the remaining four grey lines between US and India, you can see the lines have tapered down (meaning growth in death tolls has slowed). In fact, two lines have been overtaken by India (meaning India has more people dead than them).

UK, Italy, France & Spain have tapered down. India has overtaken France & Spain in total deaths.

Then there are a bunch of other countries below India where growth has been much slower, and total deaths on an avg, seem to be hovering around 10k-20k mark (compared to 30k+ where India is today).

Now let me dissect the relative performance by breaking down comparison in three legs:

  • leg 1: first 100+ death (for each country) till India crossed 1k+ deaths
  • leg 2: first 1k+ death (for each country) till India crossed 10k + deaths
  • leg3: likewise, from 10k+ till present (when India’s death toll is over 30k)

To avoid, clutter, I will not compare all the countries. Firstly, let me take off US – the death growth rate and the total deaths for US are literally “off the charts”. Keeping US in the mix screws up the rest of the graph. We already know US is the worst by a big margin.

So let me pick Spain, UK, France, Italy, Brazil and Mexico to begin with. To this list, let me add few more countries from the lower growth rate cluster – which if you observe carefully, can be viewed in two categories:

  • cluster 1- Peru, Russia & Iran
  • cluster 2 – the bunch of grey lines further below Iran

From the bunch of grey lines further below Iran (cluster 2), let me randomly pick up few countries – say Turkey, Indonesia, Egypt, Bangladesh & Philippines, to compare.

Before I proceed

I want to make it clear that at this point, I choose not to get into the data-authenticity debate (which is real). All countries probably cheat on data – some less, some more. Since we don’t have enough info on the scale of this cheating, let’s just assume that in relative comparison, the cheating-factor gets evened out.

And now to leg-wise comparison

Below is how the chart looks like for leg 1 (first 100 deaths for the select countries, to the time India crossed the 1,000 total deaths figure). Date for starting-point is obviously different for each country.

You can see here that in the 24 days it took for India’s total death toll to grow from 100+ to 1,000+, Spain, UK, France & Italy (let’s label them – SUFI) grew all the way to be in the 8,000-12,000 deaths range! So did we do better than some of these advanced countries? Yes.

Did we do better simply because there are more older people in SUFI? May be.

Graph generated from data compiled from indexmundi.com

Lesser no. of older people in India clearly seems to have played some role. But did the strict lock-down early on also matter?

May be it did? Did the fact that our PM advocated social distancing (and later masks) and has continued to do so (in contrast to say Brazil and US) have any impact on the death toll growth? Again, I would think yes.

Let’s see how the leg 1 growth chart looks like after we get rid of SUFI (that way we can focus more on the rest of the countries where the death-toll growth is somewhat comparable to what we see for India).

In the above chart, you can see for yourself that in leg 1, India is just an average performer.

In the no. of days that it took for India’s death toll to rise from 100+ to 1k+, countries like Brazil, Iran, Turkey, Mexico and Russia reached relatively higher death toll figures (all the way up to even 2500). And other countries did better than India.

Did the countries that did worse, do it simply because they all have way more older people compared to India? Not really.

Other than Russia, most other countries have similar percentage of older people as compared to India (10 to 18% range – India being somewhere in the middle).

India has clearly managed its Covid situation better than Mexico, Turkey & Iran. The old-age logic can’t be used here. Iran in fact has an even younger demographic than India and yet it reached 2500 deaths in the same number of days compared to 1,000 for India (starting at the same point of 100).

Let’s now look at leg 2 (starting-point for each country is its first 1k+ death, plotted till India crosses the 10k total death mark).

As you see above, it took India around 50 days to travel from 1k to 10k+ . But not only did the usual suspects (SUFI) do much worse (reaching 25k to 35k deaths in the same number of days), Brazil & Mexico too reached far higher death toll figures than India (25k+ and 15k+ respectively).

So even in this second leg of death toll journey, India doesn’t seem to have performed that bad; just average. Some countries have done worse and others seem to have managed their death growth much better (keeping it below 5k – Turkey, Egypt, Bangladesh, Indonesia).

On to leg 3 now!

Even in here, India still looks like an average performer, doesn’t it?

In the time that India journeyed from 10k+ to 33k+ deaths (present), Brazil, UK and Mexico did worse. Many other countries that did better than India (lesser deaths in the same no. of days) where not drastically different – Italy, France, Spain! But then Peru, Russia and Iran did much better (may be because their journey has started only recently and they are better prepared to treat patients?)

How does it look like when we observe leg 1 (100+ to 1k+ deaths) for India, Japan, China, & South Korea?

Not too bad right? By the way over 40% of Japan is more than 55 years of age. Japan is like the class topper. India is an average student. US will need to repeat the class.

What about leg 2 (1k+ to 10k+ journey) for the above countries? Only India and China remain to be compared, because neither Japan nor South Korea have a death toll crossing 1k till date.

Clearly something happened in China once it reached 3k death toll. Since then China’s total death toll figure refuses to cross even the 5k mark. Could India have even been able to pull this feat off? There is no way to tell. Does this make India one of the ‘worst’ performers? No.

If one had to look at just one graph, what would that be?

In conclusion I would say that the best way to really look at the relative performance of any country is to look at how the death per million figure grew, when compared from a common starting-point (say 3 deaths per million – which is exactly Financial Times lets you track). 

In the above chart, all the countries on the left of India (blue line), did worse than India.

For some of them (SUFI for example), old-age was a factor. For others, death toll grew faster because the pandemic started earlier (in Feb-March – when treatment strategies were not as well developed as they are today). Then for other countries like US and Brazil, bad leadership can clearly be linked to bad performance. And of course, a mix of all these factors apply on a country by country basis.

Modi’s messaging, from the very beginning, has focused on the right things (even when he has also continuously spoken about many other random things – from tali, thali to atmanirbhar catchphrase and what not). It is hard to deny that without his sustained focus on social distancing, wearing masks etc. – India would have done worse (just look at US & Brazil). And without an early lock-down, our death-toll would have grown faster in the leg 1 (difficult to say by how much though).

What about the migrant worker issue that the lockdown caused?

Yes, that sucks. The government simply didn’t anticipate the implication and messed up the entire situation leaving it to the civil society to plug in the gap. I did document that story myself, in case you have not yet seen it.

But I guess that’s the only major blunder. And in spite of the blunder, today India is not doing as bad as many would want you to believe! That’s all I’ve got to say really. I hope you gained some good insights from this analysis.

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