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Data: COVID-19 ‘Positivity Rate’ decreases ever so slightly as concerns remain in some states

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India has significantly increased its testing in the last few months. The average number of daily tests has now reached around 9 lakh tests a day. In the last few weeks, the positivity rate has also shown a slightly decreasing trend. While the numbers from some states look encouraging, concerns remain in few other states.

India is currently ranked third among the countries with the highest number of total COVID-19 positive cases. In terms of daily numbers, India currently reports the highest number of cases with more than 75 thousand positive cases being reported daily for the past few days. 

A substantial increase in the number of tests is cited as one of the reasons for increase in the number of cases.  However, there are different views on the testing strategy being followed in the country. One argument is that not enough testing is being done. The lower number of ‘tests per million’ compared to few other countries is being cited to support this argument. The other argument is that India is following a more targeted approach in view of the huge population. 

Other indicators like ‘Recovery rates’, ‘Case Fatality Rate’ etc. are also being used to understand the trajectory & ascertain the COVID-19 situation in the country. Along with these indicators,  ‘Positivity Rate’ is also an important indicator that can help in understanding the trajectory of the pandemic. In this story, we look at the trends in the ‘Positivity Rate’ at a national level over a period of time and also analyse the trends in few of the states reporting higher number of COVID-19 cases. 

More than 4 crore COVID-19 samples tested so far

By 31 July 2020, a total of 1.88 crore samples were tested in India. As per the data provided by the government, around 6.42 lakh tests conducted on that day, it was also the highest until that point of time.  Around that time,  the average the number of tests being conducted daily was in the range of 4-5 lakh. Subsequently, the testing increased substantially, and the average number of daily tests increased to around 6-7 lakhs during the first half of August’2020. The total number of tests conducted in a single day crossed 10 lakhs (a million) for the first time on 22 August 2020, when 10.23 lakh tests were conducted.

Currently, the number of tests being conducted range between 8-9 lakhs a day. This increase in August means that the total number of tests conducted in India has crossed 4 crores which is more than twice the number of tests at the beginning of August. As per the data released by ICMR on 30 August 2020, the highest number of tests were conducted on 29 August when 10.55 lakh tests were conducted across the country. 

India has so far conducted the second highest number of tests in the world, behind only the USA which conduced more than 8 crore tests. However, because of the large population, the number of tests per million population in India is still behind many other countries. 

COVID-19 positive cases have more than doubled in the last one month

India currently reports the daily highest number of COVID-19 positive cases across the world.  For the past four days, more than 75 thousand cases are being reported in the country every day. On 30 August 2020, India breached the 35 lakh positive cases mark, and also recorded the highest single day positive cases with more than 78 thousand cases. 

The total number of cases is more than double of the number of cases at the beginning of August 2020  when the number was around  16.95 lakhs on 01 August.  The daily average number of COVID-19 positive cases hovered around mid-50 thousand mark at the beginning of the month. For most part of August,  the number of daily cases was in the range of 60 thousand, which increased to around 70 thousand in the past few days. The doubling rate has also slowed down a bit and it is now around 28 days. The cumulative number of cases nearly tripled during July, compared to the two-fold increase in August. However, this is bound to slow down further as we reach higher daily numbers. 

‘Positivity rate’ shows a downward trend 

Positivity rate is the number of COVID-19 positive cases detected for every 100 samples tested. 

The current Positivity rate in India is 8.54%.  It peaked on 10 August 2020 with 9.01% and since then there has been a downward trend in the positivity rate. The current rate is back to the levels of late July, where in it was 8.54% on 27 July 2020. 

Since the beginning of May, the positivity rate has progressively increased. The rate increased by 2 percentage points in July compared to an increase by one percent in May 2020. For the first time in the past four months, the positivity rate has shown signs of decrease in August.  

The government has on multiple occasions stated that the goal is to bring down the positivity rate to 5%. A lower positivity rate indicates that the testing numbers have improved and that the population may be growing resistant to the infection. 

USA, which has the highest number of COVID-19 positive cases and has also conducted the highest number of tests has a Positivity rate of 7.56%. Among the top-10 countries with the highest number of COVID-19 positive cases, Russia and Spain have better positivity rate with 2.7% and 5.3% respectively. Same is the case with other European countries, with U.K, Germany, Italy and France reporting Positivity rates of – 2.1%, 2.2%, 3.1% and 4.4% respectively. 

Comparatively, the positivity rates are higher in Latin American countries. Brazil, which currently has the second highest number of positive cases in the world has a positivity rate of 26.8%. Similarly, Peru and Mexico have positivity rate of 20.2% and 44.3% respectively. South Africa, which has the 6th highest number of cases has positivity rate of 17%. 

Neighbouring countries of Pakistan and Bangladesh have positivity rates of 11.4% and 20.2%. 

While the positivity rate could be an indicator of the extent of the pandemic spread in the country, the date also depends on the testing strategies being followed. 

USA and European countries have conducted extensive testing while few of the other lower-middle income countries seem to have followed targeted testing strategy and hence a higher positivity rate. 

Increasing trend of Positivity Rate in Andhra, Karnataka & West Bengal

The trend of positivity rate among the states has been varied. The positivity rate for Maharashtra has not varied much over the past couple of months. Maharashtra has the highest number of cases, while the number of samples tested  is the third highest in the country, behind Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. 

  • At the beginning of July, the positivity rate in Maharashtra was 18.5%, which increased to 20.2% by the end of the July.  It decreased slightly during the month of August to 18.8% on 21 August 2020. However, in the last 10 days the positivity rate has again increased.  
  • The positivity rate of Andhra Pradesh has increased significantly from the last week of July. At the beginning of July, Andhra Pradesh was among the states with the least case positivity rate at only 1.6% but has gradually increased over the two months to 11.5 %. 
  • Similar trend is observed in Karnataka as well, wherein the rate was 2.6% at the beginning of July. After a consistent increase, especially during the month of August, the positivity rate as on 29 August is 11.7%.  
  • The positivity rate in West Bengal has tapered down in the last few days, but it is among the states with a rapid growth in positivity rate. 
  • Telangana has shown a significant fall in the positivity rate. It was around 21% in the beginning of July and it subsequently fell to around 10%. However, it is still among the highest in the country. The major reason for such a fall is a near threefold increase in the number of daily tests. The number of positive cases reported daily remained relatively the same, despite the threefold increase in the number of tests conducted daily. 
  • Gujarat, which has among the highest fatality rates in the country, also has a similar decreasing trend like Telangana, albeit with much lower numbers. 
  • Delhi has also managed a downward trend of positivity rate with current rate at 11.1% compared to the high 16.3% at the beginning of July. 
  • Although the positivity rate of Kerala is lower at around 4%, it has seen an increasing trend over the last two months.  
  • Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh, which have tested the highest number of samples in the country, have managed to keep a consistent trend in terms of positivity rates with around 9% & 4% respectively. 

The data for stagewise tests is picked from information available on COVID19india.org, who consolidated information from the  daily bulletins of the concerned state governments. 

Declining trend in ‘Positivity Rate’ could point to a decline in the growth of infection

The decreasing trend in the average positivity rate at the national level could indicate a decline in the growth of the COVID-19 spread. However, it is still too early to come to such a conclusion since the trends are vastly different across states and the testing numbers aren’t uniform across the country. 

In states like Telangana, Gujarat, UP and Tamil Nadu, the number of positive cases has not increased proportionate to the increase in testing numbers. However, in few other large states like Andhra Pradesh & Karnataka, the number of positive cases has increased  significantly despite a moderate increase in the testing numbers. 

The consistent increase in the daily case numbers indicates that India is to reach the peak. The silver lining is that the positivity rate has started seeing a declining trend in the last few weeks. 

The positivity rate of India is better than many other countries barring USA & the European countries. However, the government’s target of a 5% positivity rate is still quite some distance away. 

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