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India was in a pandemic lockdown for weeks; why are coronavirus cases now drastically rising?

Despite its weeks-long national lockdown, India’s daily death rate has shot up from a couple dozen in April to more than 100 as of mid-May, according to the New York Times. Experts cite a myriad of reasons for the spike in cases, including an easing of India’s strict lockdown and an increase in testing. 

India plans to end its 54-day coronavirus lockdown on May 17 and has already begun to take steps to reopen the economy. On May 11, liquor stores, salons, pet shops, and electrical stores opened for the first time in six weeks. But India also saw its most significant daily increase in deaths that same day—increasing by 4,214 to 67,152—just one day before it plans to reopen its train service that transports 23 million people daily.

The New York Times reported that cities with higher populations—including New Delhi and Mumbai—are the hot spots. Previously deserted streets are now filled with pedestrians, with foot traffic increasing at night when police go home. Even though citizens strictly followed the central government’s lockdown for weeks, they are now restless and desperate to return to their jobs. With unemployment at 27%, more than 100 million people have lost jobs or left the labor force, according to an analysis by Goldman Sachs economists. 

Areas with more concentrated amounts of people living in poverty also pose a significant concern. In Dharavi, one of Mumbai’s biggest slums, at least 850 people have become infected. Dharavi is one square mile and yet home to a million people, making it impossible to socially distance from those infected. In total, Mumbai has more than 13,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases. As these infections rise, officials told the New York Times they aren’t sure they have the resources needed to contain the outbreak. 

At the same time, India has tested many more people recently than it did a few weeks ago, which probably affected the daily growth rate. In late March, India had only tested about 20,000 people, with 2,000 tests administered per day. Now more than a million have been tested, with 85,000 to 95,000 delivered daily. With a population of 1.3 billion, however, India needs to drastically increase testing if it wants to get an accurate idea of its statistics. 

Dr. S.D. Gupta, a member of the government’s Covid-19 task force, told the New York Times that the country’s growth curve of new infections still has not peaked.

Sources: New York Times, Time, Reuters, Washington Post


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