1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Positive indicators mask India's deepening COVID-19 crisis

Murali Krishnan New Delhi
August 21, 2020

Epidemiologists and experts warn that the uptick in the number of people recovered and positive projections of the infection curve should not lead to complacency. Murali Krishnan reports from New Delhi.

A health worker in a Mumbai slum
Image: Imago Images/ZUMA Wire/A. Vaishnav

Over the past month, India's national capital Delhi has witnessed a decline in the daily new coronavirus infections, giving authorities a reason to believe that they have turned the corner in the fight against COVID-19. 

Delhi recorded an average of 1,022 new cases a day over the past week, a significant drop from a month ago. At its peak in end-July, the capital was adding an average of over 3,000 new cases a day.

A new serological survey conducted by the Delhi government revealed that 29% of people in the national capital may have been exposed to the novel virus, SARS-CoV-2. These individuals were asymptomatic and may have quietly recovered from the respiratory disease caused by the virus, given the presence of antibodies in their bodies.

Read more:  Coronavirus: Is India about to achieve 'herd immunity'?

Across the country, the doubling time of the infections has also come down. In May, cases were doubling every 10 days, but now it is taking about 30 days for them to double.  

"We see reassuring signals — recoveries up, mortality rate reducing. We are really happy with the daily testing numbers, which are absolutely remarkable," V.K. Paul, head of the National Task Force on COVID-19, told DW at the daily press briefing. "We are in control of the pandemic. We will not let the will of the virus rule us," he added.

But after days of seeing a decline in the daily recorded new cases number, there was a reversal in the downward trend when India reported a record daily jump of 69,652 coronavirus infections on Thursday.

As of Friday morning, India's tally crossed the 2.9 million mark, and the death toll stood at 54,849. Over 2.15 million people infected by the virus have recovered, and there are currently 692,028 active cases in the country, according to data from the Health Ministry.  

India is the worst-hit country in Asia and third only behind the United States and Brazil in terms of number of cases globally. Maharashtra, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh are the states with the highest number of cases in the country.

Read more: How Indian police contained coronavirus in Mumbai

No room for laxity

Epidemiologists and experts warn that the uptick in the number of people recovered and positive projections of the infection curve should not lead to complacency. They insist that health authorities will have to continue with the time-tested strategy of aggressive testing, containment and surveillance.

"Favorable projections of peaks and modeling graphs should not be a case to let people's guard down. Several times in the past, such calculations have gone awry and it has showed," M C Misra, former director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, told DW.

Currently, India is testing nearly 900,000 swab samples daily, and over 30 million people have undergone COVID-19 tests since January. The government has set a target of testing a million samples a day.

"While rapid testing is reassuring and encouraging, these trends go out of the window if people became callous and started attending large gathering and shunning masks," Arvind Kumar, chairperson of the Center for Chest Surgery and Lung Transplantation at Delhi's Ganga Ram Hospital in Delhi, told DW.

The southern city of Bengaluru offers a cautionary tale. In May, the city was thought to be on its way to curb the spread of COVID-19 by putting in place strict protocols and restrictions on public movement.

Two months later, however, it rapidly lost the ground it had gained earlier in its battle against the virus. "It went under a weeklong lockdown because people lowered their guard and authorities began easing restrictions. People paid the price," said Kumar.

The crisis overwhelmed the city's healthcare infrastructure and exposed the deficiencies in the administration's efforts to combat the pandemic.

Delhi's street children

Kerala, which was initially hailed nationally and internationally as a model state for tackling the health emergency, has also found itself confronting with a rise in cases in recent weeks. The outbreaks have forced the state government to impose regional lockdowns to contain the spread.

For the past two days, Kerala has recorded over new 1,700 infections and the total caseload is now hovering around the 48,000 mark.

Read more: Tackling coronavirus pandemic: Is the Kerala model in India really working?

"In six of the larger states of India, there are some indicators of a new spike or a surge in the spread of the virus," Manish Kumar of the Indian Medical Association said in a study conducted by the organization.

From urban to rural

While cities across the country have so far faced the brunt of the pandemic, the rate of transmission of the virus in rural and semi-urban areas also seems to be accelerating.

It's reported that, on August 10, rural and semi-urban centers accounted for 47% of fresh infections, or almost double their share as compared to a month ago.

In terms of total infections, these regions now account for over one-third of all registered cases, up from 20% a month back.

Speaking to DW this week, WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said India has been able to contain coronavirus infections in some of the cities where aggressive action was taken. But now the country needed to focus on "what appears to be an increasing number of cases in semi-urban and rural areas," she said.

K Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India, told DW there's a need to "persevere and catch the infection at an early stage and isolate people." That will help "cut the transmission cycle and also bring down deaths and increase recovery rates," he said.

Murali Krishnan
Murali Krishnan Journalist based in New Delhi, focusing on Indian politics, society and business@mkrish11