All the COVID-19-related data, including the number of tests and cases, used in the following analysis is available at our new comprehensive resource, ‘COVID-19 Data: India and the World’.
New Delhi: COVID-19 has now spread to all 36 states and union territories in India, and the country has been reporting nearly 10,000 new cases every day for the last two weeks. Today, with over 3.6 lakh cases, India has the fourth most number of reported cases in the world and the eighth most number of reported deaths, at 12,246.
So as things stand, how is India doing on testing – an important measure of any country’s ability to identify, and subsequently isolate, coronavirus patients?
The Wire has been tracking testing numbers in India since March 18 – shortly after the start of India’s epidemic. Then, the number of samples tested was 13,125, and only a few states like Kerala provided statewide data. India has considerably ramped up testing since, to around 20,000 tests a day on March 24 to over a lakh a day since May 19. In fact, only a couple days have registered fewer than one lakh tests a day since May 19.
At the same time, the growth rate of testing has plateaued. In early April, the number of tests increased by 12-17% every subsequent day. From around April 20, it started to dip from above 10% to 8% by the end of April, and into May. This was around the time India started reporting more than 3,000 new cases every day.
The growth rate has consistently declined since then and now hovers between 2% and 3%, and hasn’t risen above 4% since May 23. So while India conducted one lakh tests a day for the first time on May 19, the average number of tests conducted in the 28 days that followed stands at 1,23,976 – indicating a plateauing.
We must ask: Is India flattening the wrong curve – the testing curve?
Let’s take a closer look at how some key states have performed vis-à-vis testing.
The graph on the left shows the number of new COVID-19 patients (in blue) reported every day since April 11. The graph on the right shows the number of samples tested per day.
Gujarat reported the highest number of cases – 1,057 – in a day on May 17. It’s no coincidence that the state had tested the most samples – 10,548 – a day before, on May 16. Almost 10% of those tested had COVID-19.
After this, good public health practice would have been increasing the number of tests to detect more infections, isolate them and trace their contacts, with the ultimate aim of containing the infection’s spread.
But that didn’t happen. Instead, Gujarat drastically lowered the number of tests after May 17. On May 18, it cut the testing rate by half and tested only 5,224 samples. The rate has remained around that number since, although on occasion it has dipped below 3,000 as well.
The highest number of tests Gujarat conducted after was on June 11, when it tested 6,520 samples. In June, thus far, Gujarat has reported around 500 new cases everyday, apparently flattening the curve.
But at the same time, it has also flattened the testing curve. It’s likely that the number of new cases will surge if the state tests more.
In the last few weeks, there has been a lot of concern regarding the growing number of cases in Delhi. There have been allegations of underreported fatalities due to COVID-19. On June 16, the Delhi government ‘reconciled’ 437 deaths that had happened earlier to COVID-19.
Thus far, Delhi has conducted 15,787 tests per million people – one of the highest in India. However, on multiple occasions, Delhi has reduced the number of tests after a spike in the number of cases reported.
On May 10, 12 and 28, for example, Delhi tested around 8,500 samples, which is relatively high. And every time, the total number of cases reported climbed to relatively high values as well. But then the number of tests would come down the next day.
In June, thus far, Delhi has tested more than 7,000 samples per day only on three occasions. On most days, the number of tests conducted have hovered around the 5,000 mark. But the number of infections has continued to grow, indicating a very high positivity rate.
Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra
These three states have been ramping up their testing as the number of cases increase.
In early May, the number of new cases seemed to be dropping in Kerala: the state government was reporting them in single digits. But the government continued to increase the number of tests. Once the number of new cases began to grow again, the state further ramped up testing. However, its overall test numbers are substantially lower than those of Delhi and Maharashtra.
Maharashtra has not reduced the number of tests conducted after registering a growing number of infections – although the growth rate in the number of daily tests has plateaued since the end of May. In the last week, Maharashtra has tested more than 15,000 samples every day. In all, it has tested around 659,481 samples, the second highest in India after Tamil Nadu.
Tamil Nadu is testing the most samples every day; 25,463 were tested on June 17. It has tested 7,37,787 individuals in all until now, the highest in India, the growth rate has stayed on the up.
Telangana has not shared proper testing data. In May, the Telangana government only provided data on the 16th, and the next update followed on June 16 and 17. This limited data indicates that for every four people tested, one is turning out to be positive for COVID-19 – and yet the state only tested 1,096 samples on June 16.
Curiously, the number of cases dropped suddenly in Uttar Pradesh for a few days in May. Specifically, after reporting 201 cases on May 17 – the highest the state had reported in a single day at the time – the number of new cases dropped to just one on May 18. This could be due to various factors, including a data backlog – but it’s likelier that the state simply isn’t discovering new cases.
The same thing happened on May 27 and then June 7. After reporting an average of 275 cases everyday over the previous week, Uttar Pradesh reported only 16 new cases on May 27. And on June 7, the state reported fully zero new infections.
Thus far, it tested the most samples on June 8 and found the highest number of cases on the same day – 803.
When states test more, they discover more COVID-19 cases. But some states like Gujarat and Delhi seem to be pulling back the testing rate every time there’s a surge in the number of cases. Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra have consistently been testing more – relative to other states – but the growth rate of the number of daily tests is also plateauing, as seems to be happening everywhere else in the country.
All the COVID-19-related data, including the number of tests and cases, is available at our new comprehensive resource: ‘COVID-19 Data: India and the World’.