Why more Indians are dying of Covid: A Stanford prof explains


Lockdown is a form of trickle-down epidemiology, protecting the rich for a time while exposing the poor to the virus, believes Jay Bhattacharya, professor of medicine at Stanford University and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economics Research.

indica News caught up with Bhattacharya to ask him about his suggestions for India, at present reeling from a deadly second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

India is now adding around 4,000 Covid-19 related deaths and 400,000 new coronavirus cases every day. Social media in that country are filled with appeals for oxygen, medicines, hospital beds.

Professor Jay Bhattacharya

Asked why the virus took time to spread in India, Professor Bhattacharya said: “Covid hit the poor in India in force in 2020.The seroprevalence studies in Mumbai and elsewhere make clear that a large portion of the poorest in India was exposed to the virus by last summer, despite the lockdown.

The mortality from the viral spread last year was low because there are relatively fewer elderly among the poor,” he said.

This year, we are seeing the virus spread to more affluent people who were in part protected by the lockdown, but like everywhere else, the protection afforded by the lockdown cannot be sustained forever.”

He believes that the primary mode of transmission of the virus is by indoor aerosolization and droplets. “The virus is also very obviously seasonal, and it is, unfortunately, Covid season in India,” he said.

Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that a lot of younger people are dying in the second wave in India.

Bhattacharya, however, said: “Actually, it is still the older population that is dying at very high rates from the disease. In 2019, the elderly population (age 65+) made up about 6.4 percent of the overall population, and yet they represent more than 50 percent of all the Covid deaths. The infection fatality rate in the old is still orders of magnitude greater than for the young.”

So how is it possible to stop the virus from spreading, for a country like India?

Other than providing good care for the already ill, I think the primary task of public health in India should be to provide every elderly person, who has not previously been infected, with a vaccine jab. This will do the most to limit the deaths from the disease,” Bhattacharya said.

Asked about viral mutations in California and India, Bhattacharya said: “Despite the spread of the nominally more infectious variants in California and other parts of the US, cases and deaths from the virus have not grown. The same is true in the UK. The mutations are not the primary reason why Covid cases are spreading in India.”