India now has the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in the world behind the United States, with cases jumping by 25,000 per day for the past four days.
India is also the world’s third-worst affected country with 880,000 cases, still about half of Brazil’s 1.87 million and well below the 3.4 million in the US.
But India has a population of 1.38 billion, compared with 331 million in the US and 212 million in Brazil.
South Asia could soon be the world’s main hotspot after Latin America and the US. Pakistan had 249,000 cases and Bangladesh 184,000. Pakistan has had less severe lockdowns than India because of its precarious economic state, but also has a greater potential to spread the virus beyond its borders to West Asia.
In India, the spread of the virus has been indiscriminate, hitting towns and villages, rich and the poor, even though in most places three-fourths of the cases are asymptomatic.
Amitabh Bachchan, one of the most popular actors in Bollywood, and three of his family members have tested positive. Several other Bollywood stars have also tested positive, despite work being stopped at all the movie studios as well as at post-production processing offices.
So how are Indian governments at various levels addressing the pandemic?
The federal government has left most of the responsibilities to states after an initial two-month countrywide lockdown, the world’s biggest.
Most states have been making efforts to increase the number of hospital beds, ventilators and intensive care units as well as trying to make testing cheaper and the procedure simpler. However, some were caught off-guard, even after the lockdown.
Many states are now using short-term lockdowns in selective areas in a bid to halt the spread of the virus amid a lack of social distancing, which has proved to be impossible in many places.
Some states are also moving back to imposing lockdowns. Uttar Pradesh imposed a weekend lockdown to contain the spread across its population of 205 million. It plans to use lockdown days to sanitize potential hotspots.
Behind the worst-affected states of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Gujarat are states in south India – Karnataka and Telangana. Of the two other southern states, Andhra Pradesh increased testing numbers and Kerala contained the spread right from the beginning.
Tamil Nadu now has lockdowns on Sundays after ending a longish curb from June 19 to July 5 in Chennai and three other districts.
Karnataka, which reported rising numbers of deaths over the past three days, has imposed a lockdown from July 14 to July 22.
The recent surge in cases is also on account of Bangalore and Hyderabad. Half of the 39,000 cases came from the capital Bangalore, India’s Silicon Valley, which plays a critical role in developing and exporting computer programs, software and related services to the US and Europe and employs millions of India’s young and educated.
The number of cases could double in the next few weeks, according to Karnataka’s state health minister. To prevent any panic, the government has arranged several hundred buses to take people to their preferred destinations during the lockdown. Ironically, experts fear the move could end up spreading the virus.
Experts also question the viability of any lockdown of less than 14 days as that’s the minimum time required to break the virus infection chain effectively.
The migration of almost 10 million workers from various cities back to their villages in May and June was also blamed by some for the spread of the virus across India. As industrial cities eased lockdowns to restart the economy, workers were heading back to cities, increasing the challenges for authorities.
This is despite compulsory quarantine varying from seven to 14 days for travelers crossing state borders. People coming from overseas have a compulsory 14-day institutional quarantine.
Mountainous states including those located in the north-east called the seven-sisters, as well as Jammu and Kashmir, which had practically nil cases during the initial period of the virus spread, are now facing mounting numbers of cases. A heavy dependence on tourism leaves little choice for Jammu and Kashmir, forcing it to open Srinagar partially to tourists.
Still, even as various state governments struggle to contain the virus, there have been some success stories too. Focused work in Dharavi, the continent’s biggest slum in Mumbai, helped contain the spread of the virus. In Mumbai now it takes more than 50 days for the number of cases to double, compared with less than 15 days in April-May.