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Covid-19 Has Spread to 42 New Districts Since April 17. What Did Lockdown Achieve Then?

At least 42 districts reported their first Covid-19 case between April 17 and 26. This was despite the fact that India had completed 23 days of lockdown by then. What did the lockdown then achieve? Read on to find out.

India has been under a nationwide lockdown for the last 37 days. The lockdown began on March 25 and was supposed to end on April 14 after a 21-day period. However, as new Covid-19 cases continued to rise alarmingly, the Centre and state governments decided to extend the lockdown to May 3.

This is the biggest lockdown anywhere in the world with close to 1.3 billion people confined to their homes, the economy disrupted, and thousands of migrant workers stranded across the country.

With May 3 inching close, public discourse and social media are abuzz with speculation of whether the lockdown will end or be extended. The answer to this depends a lot on how effective the lockdown has been in terms of preventing the viral infection from spreading to new regions, and from proliferating within regions that had already reported Covid-19 cases.

In the past fortnight, a recurring argument that the government has forwarded to showcase the lockdown as a successful step has been that though India’s Covid-19 cases are increasing, these new cases are confined to a few hotspots.

The Union Health Ministry on several occasions has released data underlining the number of districts that have not reported any fresh Covid-19 case. Most recently, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Monday said 80 districts have not reported any new case in the last seven days.

So, has the lockdown actually been able to contain the spread of Covid-19 in India? Is it true that more and more districts are becoming ‘Covid-19 free’? Are new cases being reported primarily from the hotspots? Are districts where nobody tested positive previously, now reporting Covid-19 cases? Or, is the situation a mix of this all?

To understand and explain the geographical spread of Covid-19 cases during the lockdown, IndiaToday.in studied district-level data accessed from daily bulletins of all affected states.

Our analysis shows:

  • Between April 17 and April 26, at least 42 new districts were added to India’s list of coronavirus-affected districts
  • In other words, these 42 districts were the ones that had not reported any Covid-19 case before April 17 and reported their first case during this period
  • These 42 districts are spread across 14 states and Union Territories
  • They collectively account for 137 Covid-19 cases and five deaths reported in this period.

(Delhi and West Bengal were excluded from this analysis because these governments don’t release district-wise data, while all other states do.)

WHY APRIL 17-26?

Before we discuss these findings in detail, it’s important to understand why we selected the period of April 17-26.

On April 16, India completed 23 days under the nationwide lockdown. By then, state governments had imposed strict restrictions on movement of people; public transport was suspended; offices were shut; work from home was aggressively promoted; and testing for Covid-19 was increased. This period also saw hundreds of migrant workers in urban centres march on foot to their homes in far-flung villages. They were primarily daily wagers who became jobless overnight due to the lockdown.

Besides this, studies in various countries have shown that the incubation period (the time in which symptoms of Covid-19 become visible/samples can test positive) for Covid-19 can be of up to 14 days. The World Health Organisation says: “The time between exposure to Covid-19 and the moment when symptoms start is commonly around five to six days but can range from 1-14 days.”

This means that if a person contracts the viral infection today, it may take up to 14 days for the person to develop any Covid-19-related symptom or for their samples to test positive (even if symptoms are not visible, i.e. asymptomatic cases).

So, by April 16 (23 days after the lockdown was imposed), anybody who contracted the viral infection prior to the lockdown would have already shown symptoms of Covid-19. It is thus safe to assume that those who tested positive for Covid-19 after 23 days of the lockdown contracted the disease during the lockdown itself.

This is important in the context of the 42 districts that did not report any Covid-19 case in the first 23 days of the lockdown, i.e. until April 16. The fact that these 42 districts reported their first case on or after April 17 shows that the lockdown did not completely succeed in preventing the novel coronavirus from spreading to new areas. This was one of its primary objective.

THE 42 DISTRICTS

The 42 districts that reported their first Covid-19 case between April 17 and 26 are spread across 14 states and UTs: Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, J&K, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Andaman & Nicobar Islands.

Together, these 42 districts account for 137 Covid-19 cases and five deaths.

Balasore district in Odisha reported the highest number of cases (15), followed by Kaimur in Bihar (14 cases) and Aligarh in UP (13 cases). Meanwhile, the five deaths were reported from Aligarh, Narayanpet, Mancherial, Nandurbar and Valsad (one each).

THE OTHER CHANGE

Let’s now focus on the situation in districts that had already reported Covid-19 cases before April 17.

Looking at the number of cases in these districts, we find that there were at least 137 districts where no new Covid-19 case was reported between April 17 and 26.

But on the other hand, there were 11 districts that saw a rise of more than 50 cases, and 17 districts that saw a rise of more than 100 cases. Together, these 28 districts are responsible for 79 per cent of all new cases reported in India between April 17 and 26. Of these 28 districts, 16 had already reported more than 100 cases before April 17.

Districts where cases have been low and districts that are yet to report Covid-19 cases may benefit from the lockdown as it provided them extra time to gear up. But districts that were already identified as hotspots and continued to see a significant rise in cases during the lockdown (e.g. Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Indore etc.), would require additional infrastructural help and, more importantly, additional health workers who can reduce the work burden of those who have been attending to patients.

However, irrespective of whether the lockdown ends on May 3 or it gets extended, the fact that the viral infection is spreading to newer regions is a cause for worry. The lockdown did not arrest it.