India’s Covid-19 Cases Cross 1 Million As New Hotspots Emerge
Total number of positive coronavirus cases on Friday shot up to 56,342.

India’s Covid-19 Cases Cross 1 Million As New Hotspots Emerge

The number of Covid-19 cases in India crossed one million (10 lakh) on Friday as new hotspots emerge and infections continue to rise in the country with the third highest case load in the world.

India added 34,956 new cases in the last 24 hours, taking the total count to 1,003,832, according to the Health Ministry’s update at 9 a.m. on July 17. This includes 635,757 recoveries and 25,602 people who have lost their lives because of the novel virus. Over the last 24 hours, 22,942 patients recovered and 687 died.

The second-most populous nation with 1.3 billion people is only behind the U.S. and Brazil in the number of confirmed infections, with no sign of the virus curve flattening. India, on an average, added more than 30,000 cases in the past week, a twofold jump in a fortnight.

India took 150 days to add 5 lakh and only 20 to double it to 10 lakh. The pace of transmission is rising even as it has started to decelerate in some developed nations. India’s daily additions have surged manifold compared with the U.K., France, Russia, Spain and Italy—countries that witnessed a massive a massive outbreak recently.

“The virus has established in the country, and while the number could be 1 million now, it has already infected several millions and many of them would have also recovered by now,” said Dr. Jayaprakash Muliyil, one of India's leading epidemiologists and chairman of the scientific committee of the National Institute of Epidemiology.

Dr. Muliyil cited the example of Dharavi, Asia’s densest slum, now touted as a success story of containing the virus. A survey done nearly a month ago based on random testing showed 36% of the population in the slum had IgG antibodies, meaning the people contracted the virus in the past, he said. Dharavi, home to more than 8.5 lakh people, has only recorded a little more than 2,400 cases.

“Somewhere between that time when we did the survey when Dharavi was a hotspot and now, the virus transmission stopped, and we need to study when that happened,” said Dr. Muliyil, who designed the study conducted by ICMR said.

India’s Hotspots

While Delhi and Mumbai account for the highest cases in India, newer hotspots are emerging. Rural areas, where healthcare infrastructure is much weaker, are now seeing a rise in the number of reported infections. The virus spread outside large cites as as migrant workers returned.

Karnataka, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Telangana are emerging as the states where the virus is spreading at the fastest pace right now. Even Kerala, which had controlled the outbreak, added 700 cases in its biggest single-day tally on Friday.

Karnataka is doubling the number of cases in about nine days, while Bihar and Andhra Pradesh are taking about 11 days. That’s below the national doubling rate of 20 days.

States are resorting to fresh lockdowns to counter the spread. Bengaluru, which until last month was celebrated for having kept the virus in check, saw a surge and the number of confirmed cases nearly doubled in the last 10 days to about 24,000 cases. The city announced a week-long lockdown.

Tripura announced a fresh lockdown in the border villages and towns of the state, West Bengal announced a lockdown in the areas around containment zones till July 19. Bihar, where the number of cases doubled in the past 10 days, imposed strict curbs in the entire state.

Lockdowns won’t help much, said Abdul Ghafur, an infectious disease specialist in the southern city of Chennai. “We already had a very prolonged lockdown, so we don’t need it, except in smaller areas where the case load is higher.”

Testing Is Key 

India’s testing rate is lower than countries like the U.S. or the U.K. The nation is testing nearly 9,290 patients per million people, according to BloombergQuint’s calculations. The country, however, increased the testing capacity in the last two months and has screened more than 1.2 crore samples as of July 15.

Positivity rate has also increased. Out of 100 tests done, now seven cases are positive. This compares with three in the first week of the lockdown.

There's also disparity in testing across states. Maharashtra, the state with the highest number of cases, is conducting 12,081 tests per million people. That compares with Jammu and Kashmir’s 35,400 tests per million people or 40,441 in Delhi. Uttar Pradesh, India's largest state, is only doing 5,369 tests per million.

As the virus has moved to smaller towns and villages, it is also imperative to enhance surveillance and testing there, according to Ghafur.

“Everything will now depend on the spread to the villages and it is hard to predict how the virus will move," he said. “We need to focus on better surveillance and do more testing, and expand the area of coverage to far villages, and initiate local containment strategies.”

The government, however, maintains that their efforts to contain the virus has been showing benefits. “Despite being such a largely populated nation, we can perhaps claim to have performed better than any other country,” Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Thursday. He cited the country's fatality rate, the lowest in the world at 2.57%, and the recovery rate of 63.25%.

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