People flout social distancing rules at Sadar Bazar in New Delhi on October 29, 2020. Photo: Anadolu Agency

India has slowed the spread of the Covid-19 virus, halving the daily number of cases and fatalities, yet it still faces the risk of relapse due to the ongoing festival season, winter pollution, and the recent spike in cases in the National Capital Region of Delhi and Kerala.

India has recorded eight million Covid-19 cases, just behind the US, the worst-hit country in the world with 9.12 million cases. However, India’s daily case count has fallen steadily to 50,000 or less from double that number a month ago. India also has fewer “active” cases than the US and France. Unlike the US and Europe, which are witnessing another surge, India appears to have contained the spread for now.

India registered 7.3 million recoveries, the highest number in the world, or about 91% of those infected, from 76% around the beginning of September. The number of so-called active cases fell to 600,000 from about a million last month. India has 5,700 cases per million and 86 deaths per million, far better than most developed economies.

“The continuously rising national recovery rate and progressively falling active cases of Covid- 19 have proven the success of our containment strategy,’’ said Dr Harsh Vardhan, the health minister. Other senior officials say the authorities are successfully containing the spread because they have cost-effective diagnosis methods to identify and isolate the virus much faster.

The government stresses that the number of daily Covid tests is more than a million but it has the capacity to conduct 1.5 million tests per day. India has so far conducted 106 million tests.

Most state administrations are more confident that they can manage the virus than they were six months ago because they have an adequate number of hospital beds and sufficient medical supplies. Most states’ Covid restrictions will remain in place until the end of November, long after November 14’s Diwali festival.

However, the “Covid-irresponsible” behavior of people doing their annual festive shopping or politicians wooing voters at election rallies is threatening to derail achievements, say experts. In a national telecast, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to people to abide by the rules. However, election rallies during Bihar’s state elections were in brazen violation of Covid regulations, including those held by Modi’s BJP.

Kerala state was initially a containment role model, even though it had the country’s first case, a visitor from China. However, a relaxation of the rules and a general lack of discipline during the festival of Onam in August and early September saw the number of cases jumping. It now has about 411,000 cases.

Covid experts identify Punjab, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and West Bengal as high-risk states with high fatality rates.

Delhi capital region recorded 5,673 cases on Wednesday, its fastest single-day rise so far. The National Capital Region of Delhi over the past two weeks has recorded a steady increase in the number of cases. Experts partly attribute it to increased air pollution with the advent of winter. Thick smog produced by farmers burning stubble in the neighboring states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan also contributed to the spread of the virus.

“It is too early to say that Delhi is experiencing the third wave of Covid-19 cases,’’ Satyendra Jain, Delhi state’s health minister, said on Thursday. “We must wait for another week in order to definitively say that, but it is possible that we’re already in that phase. ‘’

With 370,000 cumulative cases so far, Delhi is taking additional measures to control the pandemic. The government has shut all schools indefinitely and is in the process of increasing restrictions as more people step outside and behave carelessly during the festival.

Over the past few years, Delhi has linked the use of automobiles to the last digit of their number plates, which is called the “odd-even policy.” Cars with an odd last digit can be used only on odd dates.

In addition, the sudden surge in air pollution in Delhi and surrounding areas prompted the central government to establish a 17-member commission to identify the causes, suggest solutions and penalize polluters, including jailing serious offenders for up to five years.