NEW DELHI (AP) – COVID-19 infections and deaths are rising at an alarming rate in India, without seeing the end of the crisis and a leading expert warns that in the coming weeks in the country with nearly 1.4 billion people will be ” terrible. “
The official number of coronavirus cases in India exceeded 20 million on Tuesday, almost doubling in the last three months, while the death toll has officially exceeded 220,000. As staggering as these figures are, the real numbers are thought to be far higher , listed obvious reflection of the problems in the healthcare system.
The country has witnessed scenes of people dying outside overcrowded hospitals and funeral pyres lighting up the night sky.
The infections have spread in India since February in a catastrophic twist, blamed on more contagious variants of the virus, as well as government decisions that allow massive crowds to gather for Hindu religious festivals and political rallies ahead of state elections.
The official average number of newly confirmed cases in India per day has increased from over 65,000 on April 1 to about 370,000, and deaths per day have officially exceeded from over 300 to over 3,000.
On Tuesday, the health ministry reported 357,229 new cases in the last 24 hours and 3,449 deaths from COVID-19.
Dr Ashish Ja, dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University in the United States, said he was concerned that the Indian politicians he had been in contact with believed that things would improve over the next few days.
“I was trying to tell them, ‘If everything goes very well, things will be terrible in the next few weeks. And it could be much longer, “he said.
Ja said the focus should be on “classic” public health measures: targeted exclusions, more testing, universal wearing of masks and avoiding large gatherings.
“This is what will break the back of this leap,” he said.
Data on death and infection are considered unreliable because testing is uneven and reporting is incomplete. For example, government guidelines require Indian states to include suspected cases of COVID-19 in the registration of deaths from the outbreak, but many do not.
The United States, with a quarter of India’s population, has reported more than 2 1/2 times as many deaths, about 580,000.
Municipal records for last Sunday show that 1,680 dead in the Indian capital were treated according to the procedures for handing over the bodies of those infected with COVID-19. But in the same 24-hour period, only 407 deaths were added to the official New Delhi tax.
The New Delhi Supreme Court has announced it will start punishing government officials if oxygen supplies distributed to hospitals are not delivered. “Enough is enough,” it said.
The deaths reflect the fragility of India’s healthcare system. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party has opposed criticism, saying health care underfunding is chronic.
But that was an even bigger reason for the authorities to use a few months when cases in India refused to strengthen the system, said Dr Vineta Bal of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research.
“Only an improvement in patchwork would be possible,” she said. But the country “didn’t even do that.”
Authorities are now trying to make up for lost time. Beds are being added to hospitals, more tests are being done, oxygen is being sent from one end of the country to the other, and the production of the few drugs effective against COVID-19 is expanding.
The challenges are steep in countries where elections have taken place and crowds have likely exacerbated the spread of the virus. The average number of daily infections in West Bengal has increased 32 times to more than 17,000 since the start of the vote.
“This is a terrible crisis,” said Dr. Punyabrata Goon, convening the West Bengal Doctors’ Forum.
Gong added that the state should also speed up immunizations. But the world’s largest vaccine maker has no shots, a result of lagging production and a shortage of raw materials.
Experts are also worried that the prices charged for the shots will make it harder for the poor to vaccinate. On Monday, opposition parties called on the government to make vaccinations free for all Indians.
India vaccinates about 2.1 million people a day, or about 0.15% of its population.
“This is not going to end any time soon,” said Dr. Ravi Gupta, a virus expert at the University of Cambridge in England. “And really … the soul of the country is at risk in some way.”
Associated Press writer Danica Kirka in London contributed to this report.
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