In the absence of any social distancing or lockdown measures, one coronavirus positive person could infect 406 others in 30 days, joint health secretary Lav Agarwal said in a press briefing on Tuesday. This is based on the assumption that R-naught or the virus’s basic reproductive number is 2.5, that is, one person can infect 2.5 others on average, he said, citing a study for which he did not give more details. He simultaneously spoke of a study by the Indian Council of Medical Research which estimated the R-naught of coronavirus to be between 1.5 and 4.
Agarwal’s comments led to confusion, with many news reports, including in Scroll.in, wrongly attributing the finding of 406 potential infections from one coronavirus patient in a month to the ICMR.
On Wednesday, Agarwal clarified through a spokesperson of the health ministry that this number was not based on an ICMR study, but on “a study by some faculty members of Universities”.
At the press briefing, he had said: “I would like to tell you about another study. We have been constantly talking about the importance of social distancing and lockdown, for which there is a new study...There is a measure called R-naught which shows how many people can one infected person transmit the virus to. In the context of coronavirus, the R-naught has been found to be between 1.5 and 4 in an ICMR study.”
“This study,” he continued, “examined this and said that if we take R-naught to be 2.5, one person, without lockdown or social distancing, can infect 406 people in 30 days. If we reduce social exposure by 75%, one person can infect only 2.5 others in 30 days.”
Agarwal clarified on Wednesday that “this study” was not a reference to the ICMR study, but another study. An internet search showed the number is widely attributed to Robert AJ Signer, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego.
The ministry’s remark came a week before the enforced mass quarantine in the country is scheduled to come to an end on April 14. However, several states have requested that the lockdown be extended, or revoked in phases. The health ministry said on Tuesday that it is looking into these demands.
The government has also ordered states to take strict legal action against people violating the lockdown. Individuals who do so can face a jail term of up to two years.
On Tuesday, the health ministry said health facilities have been divided into three groups: Covid Care Centres, Covid Health Centres and Dedicated Covid Hospitals. Covid Care Centres could either be makeshift facilities, or can be set up in hostels, hotels, schools etc., and will cater only to the needs of patients who have very mild or mild symptoms.
Dedicated Covid Health Centres, on the other hand, will be proper hospitals meant to admit clinically moderate cases. They will either be full hospitals or separate blocks in hospitals. The third category – dedicated Covid hospitals – will treat only critically ill patients. These hospitals will have fully equipped intensive care units, ventilators and beds with oxygen support.
As of Tuesday evening, India has reported 5,194 cases of Covid-19, and 149 people have died, while 401 have recovered and one has migrated, according to the health ministry.
Corrections and clarifications: An earlier version of this article wrongly attributed the estimate of 406 infections in a month per coronavirus patient to an ICMR study. The article has been amended after the joint health secretary issued a clarification.