On Wednesday May 20th, Cyclone Amphan made landfall in India near the Bangledeshi border. Amphan has killed more than 80 people, flooded Kolkota, and left millions without power, but the most significant impact to life and health may be the effect it is poised to have on the spread of COVID-19.
Prior to the cyclone, both West Bengal and parts of Bangladesh were experiencing growth in COVID-19 cases and under lockdown until May 31st. Reported case rates over the last two weeks are on the order of 10 cases per 100,000, but the rapid growth in reported cases, lack of testing, and positive test rate indicates that case rates are likely much higher than official statistics indicate.
As of May 20th, Bangladesh had only administered 214,000 tests to a population of 161 million and the positive test rate has exceeded 15% in recent days. In contrast, locations in the United States reporting similar case rates have positive test rates of ~1–2%. This is a strong indication of significant underreporting of COVID-19 cases in the area impacted by Cyclone Amphan.
According to the State Minister for Disaster Management and Relief in Bangladesh, 2.4 million people have been evacuated from coastal areas and were being relocated to more than 12,000 cyclone shelters. Based on data on cyclone shelters, the average shelter holds 1,000 people with some designed for as many as 5,000. We extended our analysis contained in (The Impact of Hurricane Evacuation on COVID-19 Transmission) to Cyclone Amphan and expect the impact of cyclone evacuations will significantly impact the rates of COVID-19 in the region. We expect 30,000 new cases of COVID-19 in the evacuated population with a range of 2,500 to 100,000 depending on factors including the actual COVID-19 population prevalence rate, the average number of days spent in shelters, and the efficacy of social distancing and hygiene measures.
Each new case has the potential to infect additional people, so quarantine and social distancing measures in the month following the cyclone are going to be critical in controlling the spread as evacuees return to their homes. For the foreseeable future, the world will be facing the dual threat of COVID-19 and natural disasters and Cyclone Amphan provides the first real test of evacuation in the time of COVID-19. Over the coming weeks, we will be looking to India and Bangladesh to better understand how evacuations affect COVID-19 case rates and to ensure the consequences of evacuations do not become worse than the disasters themselves.
Dr. Maura Sullivan is an adviser to One Concern. She specializes in risk quantification and emerging technology. Maura was the co-founder and COO of Fathom5, developing secure analytics for industrial applications. Before that, she was the Chief of Strategy and Innovation at the US Department of the Navy, responsible for institutional adoption of AI and emerging technology. Maura started her career at the global catastrophe risk company, RMS, leading the development of models and software for managing complex life and health risks for the financial and insurance markets. She was a White House Fellow, has a Ph.D. in epidemiology from Emory University, and a B.S and M.S. in earth systems from Stanford University focused in energy engineering and climate modeling.
About One Concern
One Concern is a Resilience-as-a-Service solution that brings disaster science together with machine learning for better decision making. With operations in the US and Japan, the company quantifies resilience from catastrophic perils, empowering leaders to measure, mitigate, and monetize risk so disasters aren’t so disastrous.