The seven-day rolling average of cases in India has been increasing every day since December 27 or for 18 days. From 6,780 on December 27 (the lowest number since May 2020), it fell to 193,418 on January 13. While the average number of deaths was not initially increasing, it has started to gradually increase since January 4 in states except Kerala (more on that later). Does this mean that we are heading for a crisis like the one seen in the second wave caused by the Delta variant? Should lockdowns be imposed to reduce deaths? An HT analysis suggests that such measures may not be necessary and may in fact be harmful. Here are four graphs that show why.
Deaths expected to be much lower than 2nd wave despite rapid increase in Omicron cases
The national seven-day average of deaths does not appear to be rising steadily despite the average of cases increasing every day since December 27. This is simply because Kerala, which accounted for more than half of the daily deaths during this period, reconciled its figures for past deaths (which occurred before Omicron) on a daily basis. So it makes sense to look at the numbers outside of Kerala.
Taking a daily increase in average cases for 14 days as a marker for the start of a wave, the second wave can be said to have started outside Kerala on February 12 last year and the current wave on December 22. On day 23 of the wave, the seven-day average case fatality rate (CFR), or death as a proportion of cases, was 0.64% during the Delta wave last year and is nearly a tenth of that (0.07%) of the Omicron wave.
The low CFR is not just because daily infections are low. Average cases outside Kerala are already 52% from the peak of the Delta wave, while average deaths are still 3.3% from the peak of the Delta wave. Both of these percentages are likely to increase in the coming days, as an increase in deaths typically results in a two-week lag in cases, but if the CFR is comparatively much lower, it is very likely that deaths in absolute numbers will also be significantly higher. weak even if the peak of the current wave corresponds to the Delta wave.
Caution is always advised as hospitalizations can ruin the finances of the poor
Certainly, governments are right to advise caution despite the lower risk of death in this wave. Indeed, hospitalizations, which are particularly costly, can put enormous pressure on the finances of Indian households. According to a 2017-2018 survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the poorest 60% of the population pay around 30% of the most expensive cases of hospitalization (excluding childbirth) through loans or sale of physical assets. The wealthiest 20% of the population do so only 15% of the time.
But caution doesn’t mean panic
However, advising or being cautious does not mean that people should be locked inside homes and businesses should close. Indeed, while hospitalizations are expensive, only a small number of people have needed them in the current wave. As the CFR suggests, the share of infected people who reach this stage is likely small. In Delhi, for example, where the current wave began on December 16, the seven-day average is already 93% of the peak seen in last year’s wave. The number of people in dedicated Covid-19 hospitals or centers on January 13, at 2,969, was just 14% of the peak number of 21,154 during last year’s surge. Locking down indiscriminately in such a scenario can potentially hurt the public treasury – if companies don’t make money, there will be less tax to collect – more than paying for the hospitalization of a small number of poor people.
So how can governments ride out this wave?
Certainly, even if the current wave does not result in a rush to hospitals, it may disproportionately affect poor households. Indeed, poorer households are disproportionately dependent on casual labor, where wages are negotiated on a day-to-day basis and are too low for savings. If they self-isolate due to infection for two weeks, they will likely have to borrow to survive. Even most freelancers, who earn better, work without employing other people. Their businesses will suffer if they have to isolate themselves. This is why it makes sense not to impose confinement and, instead, to insist on social distancing measures and masking.
There are about a quarter of a million casual workers and nearly 2 million self-employed people who do not employ others in the city-state, according to the National Population Commission’s 2021 population projections and proportions. of workers from the labor periodical. Force Survey conducted in 2019-2020. A lockdown will affect almost all of them.