Experts worry that India could become the next coronavirus hotspot

India coronavirus cases
Photo via Rob Alter/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

After relaxing lockdown restrictions and reopening the economy, India, the second most populated country in the world with more than 1.3 billion people, now has a surge in COVID-19 infections. As a result, India’s coronavirus cases and death rates continue to rise dramatically.

Experts initially applauded the Indian government in March when it took dramatic steps to control COVID-19 and put the entire nation under lockdown. At the time, The New York Times called it “the biggest and most severe action undertaken anywhere to stop the spread of the coronavirus.” 

“If you can’t handle these 21 days, this country and your family will go back 21 years,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at the time. “The only option is social distancing, to remain away from each other. There is no way out to escape from coronavirus besides this.”

But it looks like India’s efforts to thwart the novel coronavirus might not have been enough. As of July 23, India has had more than 1.28 million COVID-19 infections, the third-most in the world. More than 30,600 have died from the virus. In May, the nation surpassed 2,000 new cases a day, and by June 1, it had more than 8,000 new cases daily, according to data from The New York Times

On June 10, it almost hit 10,000 new daily cases. The BBC reported that Mumbai has recorded 51,000 COVID-19 infections, “taking it past the peak in Wuhan, where the virus first emerged [in China].” The Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital, has about one-third of the nation’s cases. The BBC said experts also saw a spike in Delhi, where they expect to see more than 500,000 cases by the end of July.

At first, the virus was mostly contained in major cities, like Mumbai and Delhi. But now states like Tamil Nadu in the southern part of the country and Gujarat in the west are also witnessing sharp increases in cases, according to the Times

Bhramar Mukherjee, a University of Michigan professor who has been modeling India’s outbreak, told Axios that India’s coronavirus caseload may not reach its peak until late July or August. Other experts echoed that sentiment. 

“We are very far away from the peak,” Dr. Nivedita Gupta, of the government-run Indian Council of Medical Research, told the Guardian.

While an increase in testing may account for part of the spike in cases, experts say the concern isn’t that so many people now have COVID-19—it’s that hospitals in India are now overwhelmed and have begun to turn away patients with COVID-19 symptoms, according to the Guardian. By the end of July, experts say Delhi alone will need 80,000 hospital beds for sick COVID-19 patients. It currently has 9,000 beds. 

Despite a spike in cases, the Indian government lifted the lockdown on June 8, allowing shopping malls, places of worship, and offices to reopen. Shops, market places, and transport services have been operating since early May.  

The BBC reported that experts say India had no choice but to open its economy and lift restrictions because many of the millions of Indians who lost their source of income died from starvation. 

Sources: New York Times, BBC, Axios, Guardian

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