The interpretation is that if the curve is flat there is no growth in infections and if the curve looks like a straight line, then infections are growing at a constant proportional rate. In other words, the classic exponential curve used in epidemiology.

It shows that after a basically flat portion with low growth in new cases, India entered the exponential phase, beginning March 4 or so, as captured by the straight line in the log of confirmed cases. Note that this exponential growth kicked in several weeks in advance of the lockdown and continued up to merely two days before the initial lockdown period was to end.

An optimist might perhaps see a minuscule flattening of the curve from around March 30, but this is only a week into the lockdown. Given that the virus has a two-week incubation period, it obviously cannot be attributed to the lockdown. What is more, several states had initiated their own lockdowns in advance of the national one. Karnataka, for instance, announced one on March 13, Maharashtra on March 20.

If the lockdown had any effect, you would expect the slope of this line to flatten or bend toward the horizontal axis.

Given the significant economic and human cost suffered due to it, the lockdown must, thus, be accounted for as a failure.

Lost opportunity

The bigger problem is that a focus on the lockdown takes away from the crucial question of ramping up testing.

There is no question that testing in India remains low by global standards. India has so far conducted over 200,000 tests as compared to a 100,000 per day in the US. The tourist hotspot of Goa, which hosts visitors from all over the world and, therefore, is a likely virus hotspot, has so far carried about only a little over 400 tests for a population of 1.5 million. Yet it remains under total lockdown, reporting only seven cases and zero deaths till now.

If, on one hand, we assume that India is testing enough and its numbers are accurate, we must ask if it makes any sense at all for a state like Goa to be under lockdown. By extension, is there any compelling rationale for a national lockdown which extends to many states that have had very low incidence of the virus? Clearly, one-size-fits-all isn’t the most sensible approach.

However, if we believe that infection rates are much higher than reported, it appears India missed a golden opportunity during the lockdown to build up its medical and public health capacity.

This is to say nothing of the economic and humanitarian disaster unleashed by the surprise lockdown. Rather than deploying the state’s limited capacity—low even during normal times—to set up hospitals and clinics, and ramping up testing, it has perforce been directed towards setting up relief camps for the poor and the destitute caught in the lockdown fiasco.

Any which way you look at it, the lockdown, without an attendant public health response, has failed to live up to its billing. And yet, here we are with the lockdown being extended.

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