Just a few weeks ago, a macabre forecast emerged for India: Experts said the country was ready to overtake the US with coronavirus infections.
- After peaking at 100,000 COVID-19 cases per day, the infection rate in India has fallen
- Outbreaks are still occurring in some cities, including the capital New Delhi
- Experts are cautiously optimistic but say the virus could rise again
The country has long been expected to peak sometime in November, and due to its large population, has high daily numbers and possibly multiple spikes.
But then suddenly something strange happened. The number of cases began to decline.
Since India entered a nationwide lockdown in March, the country has seen an unstoppable surge in coronavirus cases, peaking at nearly 100,000 cases per day in early September.
But the daily number and the death toll are now less than half what they used to be, while the United States now has nearly 100,000 cases a day.
A government-appointed body has stated that the peak has been passed.
Professor Shamika Ravi of the Brookings Institute cracked the numbers during the pandemic, saying the decline was “believable”.
“The test positivity rate, which is the percentage of tests that come back positive, has been falling pretty steadily,” she said.
“The government has now conducted tests in almost every state.”
Professor Ravi said the total number of cases does not mean that every state is in the same position given India’s huge population. Cases are still rising in some states such as West Bengal and Delhi.
The fact that the number of infections has decreased in some of the hardest hit states has meant that the total number has also decreased.
“The decline didn’t begin at the same time and in the same place,” she said.
The state of Maharashtra and its capital, Mumbai, have long been India’s epicenter of the pandemic. They account for about a fifth of the total and more than a third of the deaths.
It was one of the big states whose coronavirus turnaround ushered in the end of the summit.
Dr. Shuti Tandan manages 26 intensive care beds for confirmed and suspected coronavirus patients at a private hospital in Mumbai.
The last time the ABC spoke to her in May after the city witnessed explosive cases for weeks, she talked about sleepless nights after turning down critically ill patients because the hospital was congested.
But now there are often spare beds.
“Maybe we have spare beds three out of four days a week,” said Dr. Tandan.
But while the infection rate has fallen elsewhere in India, the capital New Delhi has entered its third wave after a recent festival.
A number of serological tests showing the presence of coronavirus antibodies also suggest that the actual infection rate is much higher than the official data.
There is also concern about the widespread use of rapid antigen tests, which are less reliable than the “gold standard” polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.
Tales of tragedy and heroism emerge from hotspots
Ambulance driver Aarif Khan was so concerned about getting coronavirus and passing it on to his family that he slept at work for months when the number of cases skyrocketed in the Indian capital.
He and his colleagues had offered Delhi residents a free service, transported coronavirus patients, moved bodies of COVID-19 victims and even performed final rites and cremations.
Despite all caution, the experienced driver fell ill with the virus.
The 48-year-old died in October, leaving his wife and children with no income or government support.
“We asked him to stop this work during this pandemic,” his son Mohammad Aasif told ABC.
“But he didn’t listen to us. He told us that he will continue his community service. “
Delhi has been one of the hardest hit cities in India with more than 370,000 registered infections and its daily infections have exceeded 5,000.
Since March, the organization that Mr. Khan worked for, Shaheed Bhagat Singh Sewa Dal, has transported more than 500 bodies for cremation, taken 700 patients to hospitals and performed final rites on 70 patients whose families were in quarantine.
This is in addition to the non-coronavirus patients who continue to serve the ambulance drivers.
The organization’s founder, Jitendra Shunty, contracted the virus as part of the service.
“Our morale is because of [Mr Khan’s] Death, “said Mr. Shunty.
“This is [the] ultimate sacrifice for humanity. “
India is not out of the woods yet
Experts and health workers say they are relieved that the outbreak has slowed in cases in India for the first time since the pandemic began.
But nobody is ready to relax yet.
Dr. Tandan said while the number of patients has decreased, the symptoms they were experiencing had worsened.
These include the increased prevalence of pulmonary fibrosis, which causes lung tissue to harden and scarring.
“Some of the patients come back with repeated drops in their oxygen supply,” she said.
“When we scan, we find that COVID-19 has left scars on the lungs, which leads you to believe that this disease is quite unforgiving,” she said.
There are also several warnings that states could experience more waves of infection in the coming weeks.
Pollution in Delhi usually skyrockets in November and December, and doctors warn that the toxic air is likely to make the infection rate and severity worse.
The cool winter weather in the northern states is also an issue as people are likely to spend more time indoors.
“The emerging literature tells us that falling temperatures make the virus particularly contagious,” said Professor Ravi.
There are also several upcoming festivals including Diwali, the largest festival on the Hindu calendar.
Doctors fear that as infections decrease, people will lose their vigilance.
“It’s a big concern,” said Dr. Tandan.
But Professor Ravi said states had responded to important lessons.
“All that time, the tests have only improved,” she said.
Regardless of the challenges ahead, Delhi ambulance drivers are determined to keep fighting the virus.
“We have seen several peak days in the past few months,” said Jitendra Singh Shunty.
“I am glad and satisfied that we can serve our nation in times of need.”
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