In terms of infections, India has recorded 6.47 million cases and is on track to overtake the United States as the country with the most infections in the coming weeks. But he has the most recovered patients in the world.
India’s population of 1.3 billion is, however, about four times that of the United States, which has seen more than twice as many deaths, raising doubts about India’s official figures.
“We don’t know the reliability of death rates in India,” virologist T Jacob John told AFP news agency.
“India does not have a public health surveillance system, which documents all disease events and deaths in real time,” he said.
Even though India performs around one million tests per day, as a percentage of the population, its testing rate is much lower than that of many other countries.
The United States, for example, has tested more than five times as many people as India proportionately, according to the Worldometer tracking website.
That India’s actual numbers are much worse than official data suggests is confirmed by a series of studies measuring anti-virus antibodies in the population.
India’s leading pandemic agency on Tuesday released a survey suggesting more than 60 million people, 10 times the official figure, may have contracted the virus.
The growing number of cases, however, does not deter Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi from continuing to open up Asia’s third largest economy.
A strict lockdown imposed in March not only failed to stop the spread of the virus, but also caused misery for millions of people who suddenly found themselves out of work.
In the last quarter, India’s economy, which even before the pandemic was struggling, shrank 24%, one of the steepest drops in any major economy.
International commercial flights remain suspended although limited services, many of which allow citizens to return to their home countries, have been in operation.
Trains, subways, domestic flights, markets and restaurants have already reopened or resumed service, with some restrictions.
On Wednesday, the government said all schools could reopen as well as cinemas and swimming pools, under certain conditions.
The state of Uttar Pradesh, which has a population of 200 million, allows religious events from October 15, paving the way for large gatherings during the upcoming holiday season in India.
The state of Bihar will allow its 70 million voters to vote in the next elections, one of the largest in the world since the start of the pandemic.
Dildar Singh Rana, 57, said the hospitality industry he works in has seen “destruction” and has no choice but to open up despite the health risks.
“The virus is raging … But we fear losing to rivals with deep pockets, so we must venture out and start our business,” he told AFP.
Fired during the lockdown, Priya Hemnani, 25, of the city of Faizabad, said she believed the pandemic was having a major effect on the mental health of Indians.
“Depression, anxiety disorders and stress are now part of my daily lifestyle,” she told AFP.