Third Covid wave now spreading faster in rural districts

Updated on Jan 25, 2022 05:59 AM IST

Although urban districts continue to report a higher volume of cases than rural areas, daily cases there are now decreasing, while they continue to rise in rural districts.

At a Covid-19 testing centre at a government hospital in Hyderabad on Monday. (PTI)
At a Covid-19 testing centre at a government hospital in Hyderabad on Monday. (PTI)
ByAbhishek Jha, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

India’s villages have now overtaken its big cities in reporting the rise in fresh cases of Covid-19 in the pandemic’s third wave, an analysis by HT shows, even as the growth in daily numbers is on the wane.

Although urban districts continue to report a higher volume of cases than rural areas, daily cases there are now decreasing, while they continue to rise in rural districts. This shift in rising infections from urban to rural parts of the country was seen in both of India’s previous Covid-19 waves as well. The HT analysis is based on district-level data provided by How India Lives compiled up to January 21.

The data shows that Delhi and Mumbai – the first two outbreak centres of the Omicron surge – have seen their seven-day average of new cases decrease everyday since January 16 and January 13, respectively. They are also not the only major cities to do so – infections are also dropping fast in other metropolitan cities such as Chennai and Kolkata.

While​ the seven-day average for India continues to increase, it’s rate of growth is now much lower than the rapid pace characteristic of the Omicron surge, data showed. The seven-day average of daily infections was 309,244 for the week ended January 23. A week ago, this number was 239,100, which means it has grown 29.3% in seven days. At its peak, the weekly growth rate had touched a monstrous 528% in the week ended January 8, nearly six times of the highest growth rate seen in the second wave.

In Maharashtra, while the seven-day average of Mumbai and Mumbai Suburban districts decreased from 14,038 on January 15 to 6,934 on January 21, this average increased from 28,080 to 35,315 in the rest of the state. It suggests that the growth in cases is now being led by districts that are less urban.

To check whether the current wave is now being driven by rural areas, HT classified districts on the basis of the share of their population living in rural areas in the 2011 census. Districts with less than 20% population living in rural areas are classified as entirely urban, and those with more than 80% population living in rural areas are classified as entirely rural, with the largely urban, mixed, and largely rural districts falling at similar 20% intervals in between.

This classification shows that in the entirely urban districts – 16 in number and including all metros and some capital cities – the seven-day average of cases has decreased in the past week – from 74,651 on January 15 to 70,142 on January 21. For these 16 districts combined, the decline so far, apart from being more recent than Delhi and Mumbai, is also less consistent. The average grew by 0.8% on January 18, for example, although it decreased on all other days from January 16 to January 21.

In all other kinds of districts, the cases are still growing, but the growth is higher in districts that are more rural. The growth rate of the seven-day average on January 21 was 4.5% in largely urban districts (20%-40% population is rural), 4.4% in mixed districts (40%-60% population rural), 6.7% in largely rural districts (60%-80% population rural), and 6.9% in entirely rural districts (over 80% rural population).

In absolute numbers, new infections are still somewhat higher in the urban districts. The seven-day average on January 21 was 70,142 in entirely urban districts, 60,637 in largely urban districts, 53,024 in mixed districts, 61,914 in largely rural districts, and 41,226 in entirely rural districts.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Abhishek Jha is a data journalist. He analyses public data for finding news, with a focus on the environment, Indian politics and economy, and Covid-19.

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