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With Spike in Covid-19 Cases & Deaths, New 'Virus Capital' Pune Faces Long Battle Ahead

A research scientist works inside a laboratory of India's Serum Institute, the world's largest maker of vaccines, which is working on vaccines against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Pune. (Reuters)

A research scientist works inside a laboratory of India's Serum Institute, the world's largest maker of vaccines, which is working on vaccines against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Pune. (Reuters)

By August 18, Pune had recorded 1,34,913 cases with only Delhi having a higher caseload in India. It accounted for 4.87% of the total number of cases in the country.

Pune recorded 2,432 Covid-19 cases on Tuesday; the highest in the country. While most of the focus has been on Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi and Bengaluru, Covid-19 has significantly spread in Pune, making it the coronavirus capital of the country.

In comparison, on August 18, Bengaluru Urban had 2,242 cases, Delhi saw 1,374 new infections, Thane witnessed 1,027 fresh cases, Chennai 1,220, East Godavari 1,396 and Mumbai 931.

From 14 July, it has consistently recorded more new 24-hour Covid-19 cases than Mumbai for 36 days. On August 16, it overtook Maharashtra’s capital to record the highest cumulative cases in the state and the second-highest in the country after Delhi.

Total Covid-19 Cases on August 18

Rising Cases and Spread of Infection

Pune had witnessed 14,000 cases by June 18, and contributed to 3.67% of the total caseload in India. It was number 6 in terms of total Covid-19 cases behind Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Thane and Ahmedabad.

The city saw a surge in cases from the end of June and the percentage rose to 4.78% by July 18. It had moved up one position and was now the fifth-most affected city in India.

By August 18, Pune had recorded 1,34,913 cases with only Delhi having a higher caseload in India. It accounted for 4.87% of the total number of cases in the country.

Growth of Cases Over Last Month

Pune saw its cases rise by more than two-and-a-half times in the last month – significantly higher than Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi. Kolkata had a similar percentage increase but unlike Pune, had a lower base of infections to begin with. A substantial jump in an already high base resulted in a surge of cases over the last 30 days.

The recent sero survey in Pune showed 51.5% people tested had antibodies against Sars-Cov2, suggesting that a little over half of the samples tested in five high prevalence areas of the city had Covid-19 in the past.

The survey was conducted by taking 1,664 samples from the 5 worst-hit wards of Yerawada, Lohiyanagar-Kasewadi, Rastapeth-Ravivarpeth, Kasbapeth-Somwarpeth and Navipeth-Parvati.

The results indicate that the spread of the virus may be more severe in Pune than Delhi, Mumbai and Ahmedabad, the three other Indian cities where such a survey has been conducted. The corresponding percentage for Delhi was 23.4%, 40% in Mumbai, and 17.61% in Ahmedabad.

One significant difference between the results of Pune and Mumbai was in the spread of the virus in bungalows and apartments. Pune showed a wider spread in bungalows and apartments with 43.9% and 33.2% seropositivity. This was in sharp contrast with Mumbai where 56% seropositivity was reported in clustered slums but only 16% in residential societies.

A major concern for Pune is the number of active cases in the city. At 39,971, the number is the highest in the country. From the total, 29.6% of the cases in Pune are active. The corresponding percentage for Thane is 16.9%, 13.6% in Mumbai, 10.2% in Chennai, 7.2% in Delhi and 35.2% in Bengaluru Urban.

A High Positivity Rate

Even with increased testing, the positivity rate has gone up in Pune from 16.04% on July 1 to as high as 24.42% on August 1. This suggests that there was a steep rise in cases between July and August and the rate of spread of the virus was higher than the rate of increase in testing during this period.

The city’s overall cumulative positivity rate of 23.43% is amongst the highest in the country. Only Raigad (31.5%), Thane (29.2%), Nashik and Rohtas (27%) and Dhule (26.2%) have a higher positivity rate.

In perspective, Mumbai has a positivity rate of 19.7%, Bengaluru Urban has 17.5%, Chennai 15.1% and Delhi's rate is 11.6%.

Meanwhile, Pune’s weekly positivity rate for the week ending August 18 stands at 28.51%. A high positivity rate is yet another indicator of the extent of the virus' spread in a defined area.

Increasing Mortality Rate

In terms of mortality, Pune has recorded a total of 3,336 deaths by August 18 since the outbreak began. It is the fourth-highest in the country after Mumbai, Delhi and Thane.

Its Mortality Rate of 2.47% is less than half of Mumbai’s (5.5%) and lower than Delhi (2.7%), Thane (2.9%), Ahmedabad (5.7%) and Kolkata (3.3%).

However, even as the city has managed to contain the number of Covid-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, the toll has been rising over the last few weeks.

The weekly Covid-19 deaths have risen from 149 for week till July 6, to 238 till July 13. It increased further to 274 by July 20, to 437 till July 27. It again rose to 448 by August 3 and to 485 till August 10. The week which ended on August 17 saw a marginal fall in deaths, with 476 fatalities.

The Mortality Rate which went down significantly from July 1 to August 1 has seen an upward trend thereafter. Pune reported its highest single day toll of 100 on August 14, the only day when the number reached three figures.

The figures are concerning for the city, home to a large elderly and retired population.

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