On 4 May, 2020, a day before India recorded the highest single-day jump in COVID-19 cases and deaths with 197 new fatalities and 3,900 infections, Lav Agarwal, Joint Secretary, Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare claimed during a press briefing that the “(COVID-19) curve is relatively flat as of now”. He went on to add that “If we work collectively in that direction, then the peak may never come.”
This large discrepancy between the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare assessment of the situation and the reality of the ongoing pandemic in terms of lives lost to the disease leads one to question: Is India really flattening the curve? Or is this a classic case of cherry-picking data to fit a particular narrative?
The answer to this question lies in the definition of the term: “Flattening the Curve”.
Definition of flattening the curve
In epidemiology, the curve (also called the epidemic or epi curve) refers to the projected number of new cases over a period of time.
Originally shared by Dr Drew A. Harris, a population health analyst at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia in the form of two epi curves, flattening the curve is a public health strategy to stagger the number of new cases over a more extended period. Flattening allows people to have better access to care, hospitals and vaccine-manufacturers to have more time to prepare, and healthcare workers and police to take a breather.
So, is India “flattening the curve”?
The short answer is NO.
While the stringent containment measures implemented by the central government have certainly slowed down the growth of COVID-19 during the lockdown but is that growth rate manageable by our health care systems? The answer is no.
At this moment, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare should stop claiming every day that they have flattened the curve and focus on raising the line of healthcare system capacity and increasing the testing. That is because, even as we flatten the curve, there remains a dearth of testing kits, beds, ventilators, PPE Kits, in other words, the essentials needed to treat patients.
Now, is not the time for rhetoric, it is a time to save lives.
The author is a data scientist and researcher with Reuters