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What the numbers tell us about our Covid-19 crisis

  • Published at 10:01 am June 4th, 2020
Collecting samples for laboratory testing
File photo: People waiting in queue to get their samples collected for Covid-19 testing Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune

A close examination of Bangladesh's growth trends in comparison to the rest of the world makes for sobering reading

Since the beginning of May, Bangladesh has been travelling with stealth up the world league tables for the Covid-19 pandemic.

The facts, taken from trusted national and global health data sources, paint a chilling picture of how Bangladesh is shaping up to become one of the world’s worst hotspots for the pandemic, with much of the geometric growth impacts not even felt yet. 

The sobering facts below about Bangladesh contradicts current wisdom around easing up the lockdown and advocates going much harder on testing.

21st globally in cases, from outside top 40 in April

Number of cases reported is a crude, backward-looking measure of exposure to Covid-19, but it conveys broadly where a country stands. The US currently tops the charts with almost 2 million cases, Brazil second, Russia third and the UK fourth. Bangladesh’s ranking is climbing rapidly, likely to pass China and go 17th before the end of June at current growth rates.

9th globally in daily case growth, from outside top 40 one month ago 

Case growth is a leading indicator, giving a picture of the expected future severity of Covid-19 in a country. Bangladesh currently has the 9th highest case growth globally (June 1 data), meaning that its growth is pulling the overall numbers up fast, suggesting our nation’s Covid situation will become one of the world’s worst cases within just a few weeks.

The trio of Bangladesh, India and Pakistan are shooting up the table together

The three nations are showing a similar pattern in cases and case growth. Whilst none were in the top
10 nations for daily case growth one month ago, today Bangladesh is 9th (as noted), Pakistan 6th, and India 4th. These nations are following Brazil, which has a population of 212 million and the highest daily case growth at present globally.

2.5 cases for every 1 case in India by head of population

Bangladesh has had 25% of India’s case numbers for weeks, which is high given India’s population is nine times that of Bangladesh. Even this elevated case ratio is climbing, indicating Bangladesh will narrow the gap with India.

Tracking India with respect to Covid-19 mortalities

For every death from Covid-19 reported in India, Bangladesh records 0.92 deaths, meaning that the two nations are treading almost the same path with death rates to population. But with Bangladesh’s case rate going up faster, and lockdown easing, it is possible that the death rate will soon exceed India’s.

101st in case density by population, implying that scaling has barely started

Bangladesh reports 316 cases of Covid-19 per million population, almost the same as Pakistan which reports 335 cases per million. The big three Saarc neighbours rank low in terms of case density, with Bangladesh 101st globally, Pakistan 98th, and India 145th. 

Good news? No. These countries can only go up from here, with low case density and high population density a dangerous cocktail for exponential growth tomorrow. Brazil, ranked 35th, and Bangladesh’s
rankings are climbing (looking at changes over the past week) whereas the US ranking, seen as the world’s hotspot, is dropping.

Populous Asian peers are controlling Covid more effectively

Indonesia, with 270 million population (i.e. almost twice the Bangladesh population) has only a half of Bangladesh’s cases (26,940 compared to 49,534 as of June 1). Indonesia’s cases grew by 2.5 times in the month of May, whereas Bangladesh’s cases grew by 6 times. 

Vietnam, which imposed a strict lockdown early, has just 328 recorded cases out of a population of 98 million and is now easing out of lockdown.

Bangladesh lags peers in testing

Despite ominous signals from the facts above, Bangladesh has only tested 320,000 people so far, or 0.2% of the population. To put this in context, for every 100 people tested for Covid-19 in Pakistan, Bangladesh tests just 77, and tests only 45 for every 100 tested in Brazil.

With the leading and lagging indicators for Covid-19 climbing inexorably, Bangladesh must keep the focus on three things: holding the lockdown, testing, and contact tracing -- something which India is already moving ahead with.  

Numbers tell a thousand words, and the numbers right now are not telling a pretty story.

Mohammad Tufael Chowdhury is a partner at PwC Australia and a Bangladeshi by origin. He writes in a personal capacity.