Five corona deaths in Gujarat suggest under-reporting, critical to get this right in the fight against the virus.
That Gujarat should report five corona-related deaths with just 58 persons reportedly infected by the virus is worrying for a variety of reasons. For one, at 8.6%, the fatality rate makes it the highest in the country, and among the highest in the world—indeed, the average Indian fatality is 2.7%. At 1.7%, Gujarat’s recovery rate is also significantly lower than the Indian average of 9.2%. There can, of course, be significant differences in the spread and intensity of the disease between states, as also demographic particulars of the cases such as age, medical history, etc. Both Kerala, and Maharashtra have a similar number of affected persons, but just one person has died in Kerala versus eight in Maharashtra. But, what such data can also point to is significant under-reporting of the infected in states like Gujarat and Maharashtra. This, presumably, is something the health authorities are already investigating by, for instance, drawing up a grid of those the victims met with in the weeks preceding their death, and testing them—and those that they, in turn, met—to judge the spread.
It is, in any case, obvious that as India does more testing, it will discover more of those who carry the infection. While the government has plans to dramatically raise its testing capacity—from 34,931 tests so far to 37 lakh—the actual pace of tests by the private sector has been low due to high costs and technicians not having enough protective gear. Ideally, in a pandemic, the government should defray the costs since the more testing that is done, the better it is for the country. If India has to go in for more local lockdowns—as it might want to for corona hotspots—this can only be done with accurate information on the spread of the disease.
While India hopes the lockdown will lower the spread of the disease, the other hope lies in the ability of find a cure and, eventually, a vaccine. Globally, many lines of treatment with existing drugs are being explored. While India is among those nations that are including restricted usage of anti-HIV lopinavir/ritonavir combination in their anti-corona arsenal, researchers in the UK are planning to inject patients showing severe symptoms with blood plasma of Covid 19 patients who have recovered to see if the SARS CoV-2 antibodies of the latter can help. Apart from remdesivir, an antiviral used to fight Ebola, another protocol being marshalled by some countries involves the use of interferons. The pre-print version of a study led by researchers at the University of California at San Francisco talks of 322 protein interactions between the virus and the host cell, of which 66 can be targeted by 69 existing FDA approved drugs. Indian IT major TCS’s Innovation Labs has announced 31 chemical compounds that can interfere in the normal functioning of an enzyme that aids the virus’s replication in the host cell. On the vaccine front, the WHO has announced that two vaccine candidates, one from China, another from the US, have already reached the clinical trial stage; the trials have already begun for the American candidate. Some researchers, such as those in Australia who are doing some trials, are trying to see if the presence of a BCG vaccine in childhood helps reduce the spread of corona—if this is true, it offers a lot of hope in countries like India. Other theories revolve around chloroquine/hydroxychloroquine given for the cure of malaria as a solution; once again, with a high malaria incidence, a large number of Indians have taken this drug.