India Covid deaths weekly projection – 27 Sep update


My big question every week (since May) is, when will India cross 1 lakh total reported Covid deaths? It will happen this week as we enter October.

Total cumulative Covid death toll as of yesterday (26 Sep) stands at 93k+ (actual figure could be as high as twice this value, for various reasons documented here).

On a global level, if you just look at total number of reported Covid deaths, you will find that India is at no. 3. But the moment you adjust for population (which makes more sense), you realize that India is in a much better position (the pink line; US is dark blue, Brazil green, UK light blue and Canada red).

93k total deaths means ~68 deaths per million (Brazil is almost ten times that figure). It will take many months for India to reach the kind of deaths per million figures that Brazil or US have already seen (if it does).

The reason I just compared India with literally the worst performers is not so that like Modi, I can claim it’s all good – I am just making sure you see things for how they are. There are many countries doing better then India and there are many others that are doing worse (once you adjust for population and compare).

One could try forecasting the future Covid deaths in India by simply using the existing week-on-week growth in deaths.

Chart created by Amrit Vatsa on 27 Sep 2020 from publicly available data

This is the first time that weekly death growth in India went significantly below zero percent!

Only once earlier, the growth had been negative (just shy of zero – in the 23-29 Aug week). For future average weekly growth estimate, 2% to 10% growth range sounds good?

This is how the forecast looks like, for the following three scenarios.

We will cross 1 lakh Covid deaths this week and then will touch 2 lakh by early December (2 lakh total deaths for India would be equivalent to 144 deaths per million; both US and Brazil are already over 590 per million dead). Even a relatively better performer Canada peaked only after crossing 200 deaths per million.

Alright, let’s now try a slightly more nuanced (albeit indirect) approach to project future deaths. This requires looking first at cases. Cases are important because even when you don’t die, just being infected seems to have its own issues.

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At a global level, when adjusted for population – total reported cases for India (pink in the below chart) are low when compared to the worst performers (US – dark blue, Brazil – green) but already higher than Canada (red) and will cross UK (light blue) soon.

Anyway so like deaths, for cases too, if we look at the week-on-week growth, we can have some idea of how it’s probably going to grow in the next few weeks.

~6 lakh total positive cases were detected this week, which is 8% lower than the total cases detected the week before (6.5 lakh)

I will not conclude that India has peaked already unless total cases continue to be negative week after week. This week could just have been an anomaly.

Let’s call this w-o-w growth in cases – ‘X’. X was 2% last week and 14% the week before (see the above chart). X=-8% this week. For my projection, I think I can assume a range of 2 to 10% for X in the coming weeks.

Let me also make sure you understand how growth works – when something grows at 10% every week, it means it will double in less than two months. But if it grows at 2%, it would take almost nine months for it to double!

Now in general, people who die of Covid in a given week, are either tested positive the same week, or the week before (just a basic assumption). Do we have some idea of what %age of such cases die? We do actually.

7,760 Covid deaths were recorded this week, which is basically 1.2% of half of total cases from this week + half of total cases from last week.

Let’s call this %age Y; Y= 1.2%.

For the future, let’s assume a range of 1% to 1.2%?

So we can forecast now – I am going with the following 3 scenarios:

  • X=5%, Y=1.1% (baseline)
  • X=2%, Y=1% (optimistic: slower growth in cases + lesser %ge of deaths)
  • X=10%, Y=1.2% (worse: expecting faster growth in cases)

With the above assumptions, below chart shows the future cumulative death count.

What’s going to happen this week doesn’t change (crossing 1 lakh) but this indirect estimate for deaths tells us that only in the worse case scenario will we cross 2 lakh in 1st week of December.

India will cross 1 lakh total deaths this week and will probably touch 2 lakh in December.

Now, 1 lakh total deaths for India is basically equivalent to 72 deaths per million of the total population (currently we are at 68 per million Covid deaths).

To what extent would the death toll figures keep going up – before it flattens / peaks?

If we look at other countries, death toll for many started to flatten out only after anywhere between 400 to 600 per million of their population died!! Scary, I know!

If we assume that for India, the death toll flattens out even at say 200 deaths per million, that would be equivalent to ~3 lakh total deaths!

It’s difficult to imagine why India would see any less no. of deaths than that. Let’s look at some of our cities / small states.

Y axis represents weeks; 1= the week when the city / state first reached ~10 deaths per million

Pune for example, has crossed 800 deaths per million.

The only populous countries across the globe where death toll flattened at much lower levels (like say Japan and China) happened when they somehow didn’t let the total deaths cross even 5k (Japan for example didn’t even let it cross 1k). We clearly couldn’t control things to that extent in India (most countries haven’t). So now let’s just be hopeful that the total death cap estimate that I am guessing is on the conservative end – otherwise, we could lose even up to 5 lakh people (or 362 deaths per million)!

That’s it for this post. I’ll get back with updated projections next Sunday (04 Oct). Stay safe.

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