India is struggling to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, with its total number of cases now having passed the three million mark.
It is the third country most affected by the virus after the United States and Brazil.
But, in the past three weeks, the South Asian nation has reported the world’s highest daily new infections.
The health ministry on Friday reported a record jump of 77,266 cases and 1,057 related deaths in the past 24 hours.
“India is at a precarious stage in containing and managing the COVID-19 epidemic. The total number of COVID-19 cases in the country has risen undeterred, ”Sanghmitra Sheel Acharya, professor at the Center for Social and Community Health Medicine at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, told Al Jazeera. .
What is driving the record high and why has India struggled to flatten the coronavirus curve?
Here are five things to know:
Rapid mass test
Health officials have increased testing across the country five-fold in two months.
More than 39 million cumulative tests have been conducted to date, according to the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR), with an average of 800,000 samples taken daily.
In the capital, New Delhi, the chief minister said tests would be doubled from 20,000 to 40,000 tests per day in a week.
Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director of the Southeast Asia office of the World Health Organization (WHO), said increased surveillance was helping to increase the numbers.
“In the past few weeks, testing has been rapidly stepped up across the country,” Singh told Al Jazeera.
Since June, several states have authorized the use of cheaper and less accurate rapid antigen test kits.
This testing technique is faster than most standard PCR tests and many do not require a processing laboratory or specialized equipment or trained personnel.
But health experts have worried that antigen tests – which test for viral proteins – can miss infections and lead to false negatives, helping the virus spread to hard-hit areas.
Low death rate
The case fatality rate in India – the number of deaths among positive cases – has remained relatively low. It is currently less than 2 percent.
Similar trends have been observed in other South Asian countries, including Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
But some experts have questioned whether deaths are accurately documented in India, with 78% of deaths not being medically certified under normal circumstances.
The cure rate is nearly 76 percent, with more than 2.5 million people recovered among the 3.3 million recorded cases.
Flatten the curve
Since the start of August, India has reported the world’s highest daily new infections – between 60,000 and 70,000 cases.
His milestone of three million cases on Sunday came just 17 days after crossing the two million mark.
The virus is spreading particularly rapidly in rural areas – where two-thirds of the country’s 1.3 billion people live.
Lockdown restrictions have been relaxed and businesses have reopened in most parts of the country. We see people not wearing masks in public places or practicing physical distancing.
JNU’s Acharya said that despite the country’s efforts and the comparison to the devastation caused by the pandemic in developed countries, India has “failed to flatten the curve”.
The biggest lock
In late March, India imposed a nationwide lockdown, the largest in the world affecting 1.3 billion people. At the time, the country had recorded 519 infections, including 10 deaths.
The nearly two-month strict shutdown sparked a humanitarian crisis, with tens of millions of migrant workers stranded in towns across the country losing their jobs, battling hunger, running out of money and struggling to return to their homes. villages of origin.
Acharya, professor at JNU New Delhi, said the government should have formulated a formidable plan to mobilize the health system and better prepare for the pandemic during this time, instead of focusing on symbolic rituals of lighting up candles and banging pans. balconies.
“The lockdown was imposed, restricting travel between cities and states, when the government needed to facilitate safe return home and provide security if unable to return home,” she said. added.
Mr Singh, of the WHO, said building response capacities was a challenge, but strict public health measures had been largely effective.
“India has used the lockdown period to strengthen and expand its health systems, set up COVID-19 care facilities, train health workers and procure essential medical supplies. Now, as the world moves to a new normal, India, like other countries, is gradually opening up to regular business. “
Health care system
The pandemic has laid bare India’s fragile health infrastructure.
Hospitals across the country are overwhelmed, and many are running out of beds and ventilators for COVID-19 patients.
Officials in India’s two largest cities – the capital New Delhi and the financial hub Mumbai – have reported an alarming shortage of space in hospital intensive care units (ICUs) and general wards.
Meanwhile, thousands of health workers on the front lines of the pandemic went on strike this month demanding better pay and proper protective gear.
Acharya said it was the responsibility of state governments, which oversee the health sector, to provide care to the needy and direct its efforts to those in need of critical care rather than all infected cases.
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