On September 10, India’s case fatality rate from Covid-19 stood at an impressively low figure of 1.7%. This is far lower than the world average. The Indian government has not been slow to tout this as proof that India is coping resiliently and well with the pandemic.

The reaction from other quarters has been just as quick but not as positive: India has a particularly young population, which would tend to bring down the fatality rate. The lag between infection and death, coupled with increased testing, could also bring down the fatality rate by expanding the denominator (positive cases) relative to the numerator (fatalities). And of course, there could be severe undercounting of Covid-19 deaths.

In this day and age, with echo chambers cranked up to maximum volume, it is easy to imagine these as largely academic arguments. But of course they’re not. The quantitative effect of these various propositions has implications for the assessment of both intrinsic and comparative country performance of countries in combating the pandemic. That said, the emphasized phrase in the previous sentence is important. We need to know how strong these effects are, over and above the mere assertion that these are possible effects.

In Philip, Ray and Subramanian [linked here], we do just...

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