The top twenty high-burden districts include state capitals and several industrial hubs of the country, a district-wise analysis of cases shows
The novel coronavirus, which causes covid-19, has been a great leveller in many ways, destroying lives and livelihoods of the rich and poor. Yet, it seems to have affected the richer parts of the world much more than the poorer ones. So far, the same script seems to be playing out in India, too.
The virus has hit affluent districts and states far harder than their poorer counterparts, according to a Mint analysis of district-wise case data. The economic impact could be severe as these regions are likely to remain under lockdown for a longer period.
The analysis is based on district-wise case data compiled by howindialives.com for 717 districts and uses a simple classification to categorize districts into four buckets: districts with more than 100 confirmed cases as of mid-April (marked as red), districts reporting between 20-100 cases (orange), districts reporting less than 20 cases (yellow), and districts with no cases (green).
Based on this categorization, 20 districts fall in the high-burden red zone. These account for more than half of all confirmed cases and 67% of deaths. A total of 87 districts are in the orange zone and 292 districts lie in the yellow zone. The remaining 318 are in the green zone.
Almost all the red districts are prosperous and urbanized, and green districts are invariably poor. The more affluent the district, the higher the chances that covid-19 cases have been reported there, shows the analysis.
The categorization of districts is broadly similar to that of the Union health ministry’s classification released on Wednesday. However, the ministry’s classification involves state-level criteria—for example, the share of cases in a state that a particular district accounts for—as it is to be used by state-level officials. The Mint analysis eschews state-level criteria and provides an assessment of the country-wide distribution of cases.
The data on affluence is derived from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) of 2015-16, the last official survey to provide district-wise representative data on demographics and household assets. The analysis of affluence across districts is restricted to 135 districts, which have at least 10 covid-19 cases and for which comparable data on affluence is available from NFHS.
Eleven big states account for all of the red zone districts. These include some of India’s most prosperous states such as Delhi, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.
Given that testing has been uneven across the country, it is difficult to say to what extent the reporting of cases across regions reflects actual incidence, and to what extent it reflects the scale of testing. If the extent of under-reporting is not high and the confirmed cases reflect the true spread of covid-19 in India, it could simply imply the better integration of urbanized and densely packed districts with the rest of the country and the world. In normal years, these features make these districts attractive destinations for migrants.
However, in a pandemic, the same features turn into bugs, making these districts more vulnerable than others. That also means the challenge of rebuilding the economy will be tough, given that the nerve centres of the economic system have been rendered immobile now.
The 20 red zone districts include most districts of the national capital and several state capitals apart from economic hotspots such as Indore (Madhya Pradesh), Pune (Maharashtra), Thane (Maharashtra), Agra (Uttar Pradesh) and Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu). Among districts in the red zone, Kasargod in Kerala has had relatively muted growth in cases in the first fortnight of April. Coimbatore and Hyderabad districts have also seen relatively modest growth in cases over the same period compared to the other districts in this category.
The rise in case count has been sharper in some of the orange and yellow zone districts than in the red districts, and if the same trajectory continues, these districts could well join the ranks of the red zone districts. Cases in Nashik (orange zone), for instance, are rising at twice the rate of growth as Mumbai (red zone).
As India moves to a district-wise and cluster-wise containment strategy to combat the virus, it is important to keep in mind the lessons of relatively successful districts such as Bhilwara in Rajasthan or Pathanamthitta in Kerala, which have managed to bring down new cases through aggressive contact tracing, testing and physical distancing.