Covid-19: India Need Not Be Ashamed Of How It Handled The Pandemic

Covid-19:  India Need Not Be Ashamed Of How It Handled The PandemicPrime Minister Narendra Modi.
Snapshot
  • India should not be particularly shamed for having over 7 million Covid-19 cases in a population of 1.38 billion.

    We may not be among the best performers, but we are far above many countries that ought to have done much better.

India has received lots of flak for how it has handled the Covid-19 pandemic, and some of the criticism is richly deserved.

However, a lot of the criticism is mindless for the simple reason that comparisons are made without adjusting for population sizes and densities.

An infection that needs good medical infrastructure, frequent washing of hands and social distancing to reduce its spread will have different results in different countries no matter how good the efforts of the government are.

Broadly speaking, countries with high population densities will probably carry greater risks of spreading the infection faster, while countries with great spatial spreads and smaller populations per square kilometre should, normally, be able to handle the pandemic better given similar healthcare capacities.

Also, gross detected infection rates will always be higher for countries with high population numbers, and so if infection rates are not adjusted for population size, we are comparing not apples with oranges, but grapes with jackfruit.

In the table below, column two gives the actual Covid count as on 12 October (source: John Hopkins University Coronovirus Resource Center), while column three gives the potential infection level if these countries had the same population size as India.

Column four gives each country’s population density per square kilometre, and so one can additionally adjust for the possibility that denser populations will have higher infection rates even if the quality of healthcare is high, and the population itself is highly educated and better off and in a mood to comply with restrictions.

India has none of the positives, and its performance must thus be judged after adjusting for all these factors.

Seen this way (see table below), countries like the US, Brazil, Russia, Spain and even Singapore show population-adjusted infection rates far higher than India’s.

Covid 19: How India compares when we adjust for population size

<i>Note:1) The population adjusted count in column 3 is a linear multiple of the country’s actual Covid count multiplied by the number of times India’s population exceeds that country’s population. </i><i>2) Population density data has been sourced from the World Bank </i><a href="https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.POP.DNST"><i>here</i></a><i>.&nbsp;</i><i>3) Population estimates for 2020 have been sourced from Worldometer </i><a href="https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/population-by-country/"><i>here</i></a><i>.</i>
Note:1) The population adjusted count in column 3 is a linear multiple of the country’s actual Covid count multiplied by the number of times India’s population exceeds that country’s population. 2) Population density data has been sourced from the World Bank here3) Population estimates for 2020 have been sourced from Worldometer here.

Israel, which is as jam-packed as India with 410 people per square km (versus India’s 455), has a horrendous projected infection of over 40 million (ie, if Israel had as many people as India and the infection rates were similar). India’s figure was 7.05 million on 12 October.

Super-advanced Sweden and Switzerland would fare much worse than India, and Canada – with less than one-hundredth the population density of India, is more or less on a par with India in terms of total Covid-19 cases after adjusting for population.

Projecting potential Covid-19 cases in less populated countries based on an Indian population base may not be the best way to show that India did as well, if not better, for scale changes everything, from government policy priorities to responses to a crisis.

But the lesson to draw is clear: India should not be particularly shamed for having over 7 million Covid-19 cases in a population of 1.38 billion. We may not be among the best performers, but we are far above many countries that ought to have done much better.

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