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'National lock down does little more than cause economic disruption' — Johns Hopkins shows three ways the Coronavirus pandemic could play out in India

Mar 27, 2020, 15:05 IST
  • A Johns Hopkins University report predicts that India might have 200 million cases of Coronavirus by May, before it comes down.
  • It points out that national lockdown does little more than cause economic disruption and reduce the population’s resilience.
  • India’s relatively young population could be in its favour but only if nutrition is not compromised.
India is home to 1.3 billion people who are currently under a government-imposed 21-day lock down in an attempt to combat the Coronavirus pandemic which has already infected over 700. A report by US-based Johns Hopkins University bats for social distancing in the long-term rather than the lockdown to contain its spread. Even in the best of circumstances, at least 150 million will be infected by May.

“Border closures at this stage have little to no impact and add further economic disruption and panic… A national lockdown is not productive and could cause serious economic damage, increase hunger, and reduce the population resilience for handling the resilience peak,” said the report.

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Right now, India should concentrate on increasing testing, the report said. Not only will it help catch cases early, it will also help people take the problem more seriously.

“An increase in the official number of detected cases in the short term could encourage the population to take distancing more seriously and will reduce the panic compared to a big spike later,” said the report.

The university used an agent-based model called IndiaSIM to show how the infection could spread across the country — and the three different ways it could end.

The good, the bad and the ugly
The most likely scenario is that there will be ‘medium’ spread of the virus if everyone complies with the lockdown — provided the virus doesn’t become more deadly. This will limit the spread of infection to just under 200 million in May people before starting to die down.



However, there’s a possibility that things may change for the worse, according to the report. The infection rate could also be ‘high’ — even with the lockdown — if social distancing isn’t strictly followed. This means that the total amount of infections could skyrocket to 250 million by April before starting to come back down.
“Mortality in healthcare workers could further increase deaths in the general population. Healthcare workers need personal protective equipment. Without them they get sick, further straining the capacity of the healthcare system,” said the report.

The most optimistic scenario is if the virus weakens on its own and social distancing is followed to a T — the flattest of all curves. The spread of Coronavirus will be limited to 150 million people but only if social distancing is kept in place till at least June — more than twice the length on the current lockdown.

The worst-hit states

Just like with India, there are three ways that the Coronavirus pandemic can play out in India’s worst-hit states like Maharashtra and Kerala. State specific estimates depend on demographics, flight connections, the infection’s presence in major metro cities — like Mumbai — and how fast the infection has already spread.

In Maharashtra, up to 25 million are at risk of being infected if direct contact isn’t limited. The most likely scenario is that just over 20 million individuals will be exposed, but if the virus becomes less virulent on its own, that number could stay as low as 15 million.

So far it’s the worst-hit state with 124 active cases with three people reported dead after testing positive for Covid-19.


In Kerala, the second worst-hit state in India, the highest rate of Coronavirus infections could hit 80,000. This may sound considerably less than the estimates for Maharashtra, however Kerala only has one-fourth of Maharashtra’s population.

In comparison to other countries, India has a relatively young population which could play out in its favour. The kicking in of summer season could also be a boost.

“Temperature and humidity increase should help us in reducing case load. Although the evidence is limited, it is plausible,” said the report.

However, the stressed healthcare system in India also means that the population at large — including those who are young — face nutrition challenges. The density of the population makes it difficult to adhere to social distancing, which could worsen the problem.

See also:India’s anxious middle class is left waiting for EMI relief after the $22 billion Coronavirus lockdown package
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