India crossed a landmark no country would be proud of with more than two million people contracting the coronavirus so far.
The country has recorded more than 62,500 daily cases, the highest by any nation, and with no visible signs of the numbers coming under control.
Compared with a month earlier, the total number has increased one and a half times, while the number of daily cases has more than doubled. This is despite the virus being contained in cities such as Delhi and Mumbai, which were among the first to get affected.
At the current rate of increase, India could surpass the total number of cases in Brazil this month. Brazil is the second-worst country affected after the United States. The US has had five million cases, while Brazil has had about three million.
India and the US took 20.6 days to reach one million cases, while Brazil required 21.6 days. For the next million India took 22.7 days, compared with almost 36 days by Brazil and two months by the US.
The rapid surge in the number of cases in India has caused great concern for the weeks ahead. What causes greater concern is the level of testing for a population as large as 1.38 billion and the rapid spread of the virus across the small towns and villages.
In the initial stages, states and cities with greater exposure to overseas travelers were mostly affected. Now Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar account for two-fifths of all new cases.
The number of containment areas is much higher in smaller towns such as Thane, Palghar and Nasik nearer Mumbai, and others scattered around the country.
Initially, 50% to 75% of cases in Maharashtra, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu were in and around their capital cities of Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai. With most large and sophisticated medical facilities concentrated there, authorities could focus their energies in these areas.
The rapid rise in new cases is now coming from small towns and villages. A similar exercise will be tougher to replicate in small places with dispersed populations, increasing the challenge for authorities.
Cases have also surged in the southern states. Andhra Pradesh has notched up almost 200,000 cases compared with only 15,000 a month ago. Karnataka state and Bangalore, its capital, have 155,000 cases. Cases in Kerala too surged past 40,000 after the state was lauded for its success in initially containing the virus. An area of concern that could slip past is the spread of the virus in hilly north-eastern states led by Assam.
While lockdowns seem to have been a favorite tool for most, some states are beginning to take testing facilities closer to homes and reducing the cost for tests to help contain the virus before it spreads to a wider population. India has conducted 23 million tests, which seems high but remains inadequate for its size. It plans to double tests to a million a day by the end of September.
Mass public transport, including metros and trains, economic activities involving closer involvement of people such as theatres, restaurants and public meetings still remain banned. Colleges and school are shut. Herein lies the critical dilemma for governments – how to relax restrictions on livelihoods without putting lives at risk.
The central bank on August 6 painted a somber picture of the economy.
“For the year 2020-21, as a whole, real GDP growth is expected to be negative. An early containment of the Covid-19 pandemic may impart an upside to the outlook,’’ said the Reserve Bank of India.
“A more protracted spread of the pandemic, deviations from the forecast of a normal monsoon and global financial market volatility are the key downside risks.’’
A positive aspect in the negative data is the relatively low level of fatalities in India, which is about 2.05%. With about 41,670 deaths, India is in fifth spot globally. Active cases are less than 30% and patients have recovered in 68% of the cases.