India coronavirus: Four Modi claims fact-checked

A man watches Indian prime minister address the nation

India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has been talking about the country’s continuing battle against the coronavirus.

We have looked at some of the claims made by Mr Modi about India’s handling of the pandemic.

Claim: “We are seeing a decline in the number of cases per day and in the growth rate of cases… because India was one of the first countries to adopt a flexible lockdown when total cases were a few hundred.”

Verdict: It’s true India’s infection numbers are falling. But it wasn’t the only country to lock down when case numbers were relatively low and countries have seen variable results from lockdowns.

India’s daily reported case numbers have been coming down since peaking around the middle of September, and week on week, there’s been a drop in the rate of growth in new confirmed cases.

The number of deaths reported daily has also been declining.

Evaluating the impact of lockdown is difficult because countries vary in the amount of testing they do, and therefore in the number of cases they confirm.

They have also imposed different types of restrictions on their populations.

Lockdown in India began on 25 March, when there were 562 cases and nine deaths. The nationwide lockdown continued for 68 days, until 1 June, when India had 190,535 cases and began easing restrictions on movement.

During lockdown, case numbers grew more than five-fold.

People in Delhi queue outside a major temple complex which reopened in October

Some neighbouring countries implemented lockdowns around the same time or before India did, when their case numbers were also relatively low.

Nepal went into lockdown on 24 March, a day before India, when it had just two confirmed cases, and Sri Lanka locked down on 22 March when it had 78 cases.

Countries such as Peru and New Zealand also locked down early. Peru went into lockdown on 16 March, when it had 71 cases, and continued until the end of June – the longest lockdown in Latin America.

But there, case numbers continued to grow exponentially, reaching more than 282,000 by the end of June, when restrictions in Peru were lifted.

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New Zealand saw cases grow during the lockdown, with the numbers increasing more than six-fold. But it’s worth adding that the country has been testing more than others, so would find more cases.

Claim: “Out of every million, we have around 83 deaths. This is compared to other nations, which see around 600 deaths per million in US, Brazil, Britain, Spain.”

Verdict: It’s true that India’s numbers are much lower, but experts also warn that a significant number of Covid deaths could be going unreported.

India has recorded just over 83 deaths per million people so far due to coronavirus, which is much lower than the 665 deaths per million in the US, 644 in the UK, 725 in Brazil and 727 in Spain.

Currently, India, with 17% of the global population, accounts for 10% of all deaths from Covid. This compares with the United States, which has around 4% of the global population and 20% of all deaths.

It also has a low case fatality rate – the proportion of people who contact Covid-19 who die.

There might be various explanations for this, such as the younger age profile of the population.

But there are also questions about whether India is capturing all Covid deaths in its official data.

And countries record deaths in different ways, so exact comparisons can be difficult.

It’s also worth saying there are other parts of the world with relatively low death rates, such as Africa.

Claim: “5,500 people out of every one million of population in India are infected, whereas in countries like the US and Brazil this figure is around 25,000.”

Verdict: The available data supports this claim. However, reported case numbers depend on how widely you test.

India’s current confirmed cases per million are much lower than both the US and Brazil, and lower than some other countries where the pandemic has taken hold.

But the number of confirmed cases is governed by testing – the more testing you do, the more cases you will find.

When you look at tests done per capita, India has not done as many as other countries, although it has been ramping up its testing considerably.

It had done just over 69 tests per 1,000 people as of 20 October, whereas the UK had done 377 and the US 407.

Claim: “India was one of the earliest to deploy a rapid antigen test.”

Verdict: There are countries that approved these rapid coronavirus tests before India did, but there have been concerns over their accuracy.

India approved rapid antigen tests on 14 June, and began using them on 18 June to scale up testing which until then had relied on the PCR test – the gold standard test but one which takes longer to process.

Other countries had used them before. One of the first to approve antigen testing early on the pandemic was Belgium. Its federal agency for medicines and health products had, in March, certified the usage of an antigen test kit.

India has been switching away from PCR tests in order to boost testing levels

But it’s not being used in Belgium any more, as “the reliability of tests, particularly those detecting antigens and antibodies, is not always clearly proven and documented”, the government guidelines say.

And the first antigen test kit to be approved in the US was on 9 May, followed by Japan, which approved its usage on 13 May.

India has approved the use of five antigen test kits – developed in South Korea, Belgium, Taiwan and two developed locally.

But it’s worth noting that on the official Belgian list of approved rapid antigen tests, the one that India uses is no longer listed due to concerns about its reliability.

Similarly, South Korea, which has been exporting antigen-based test kits elsewhere, decided not use these tests at home due to the inaccuracies in test results, and continued to ramp up PCR testing instead.

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