Here’s How India Is Easing Covid Restrictions Just Weeks After Experiencing World’s Worst Outbreak

Topline

A staggering change of course for a country that just reported its worst month of the pandemic, parts of India, including the capital city of New Delhi, are moving to ease some coronavirus restrictions over the coming week after reporting a sharp decline in new cases and deaths.

Key Facts

Cases have dropped by two-thirds from a peak of over 391,000 in early May, according to data compiled by The New York Times

The daily average of new cases now sits at just over 130,600, with the number reported Sunday (114,460) marking the lowest in two months.

Deaths have also been on a steep downward trend, dropping nearly 30% over the past two weeks from a peak of 4,190 a day. 

This progress in curbing the virus has led New Delhi and several major Indian states—including Maharashtra, home to Mumbai, which suffered the most infections during the second wave—to ease movement restrictions and allow some businesses to reopen. 

Contra 

Some experts have sounded the alarm about a premature easing of restrictions. World Health Organization Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan in mid-May warned data about dropping cases is unreliable due to a lack of testing in rural areas where the virus is still spreading quickly. “There are still many parts of the country which have not yet experienced the peak,” Swaminathan said, adding: “Testing is still inadequate in a large number of states.”

Surprising Fact 

Just over a week ago, India reported the highest daily death toll of any country, with more than 4,500 people dying of Covid-19. 

Key Background 

India became home to the world’s worst Covid-19 outbreak in April and went on to report its most devastating month of the pandemic in May due to the spread of the highly infectious B.1.1.7 variant and relaxed public health measures. Hospitals, crematoriums and graveyards were quickly overwhelmed, and hundreds of bodies of suspected Covid-19 victims were even found floating in India’s holiest river, the Ganges. India has also been slow to vaccinate its population, with just 3% fully vaccinated against the virus and 13% with at least one dose. 

Big Number 

346,759. That’s how many people have died from Covid-19 in India. However, the real death toll is likely much higher than what’s been reported. The New York Times offered a conservative estimate that 600,000 Indians have really died in the pandemic or “a more likely” estimate that the true toll is 1.6 million deaths. 

What To Watch For

India’s public health experts have warned about the possibility of an impending third wave. V K Saraswat, a member of government-run public policy think tank Niti Aayog, said earlier this week that top epidemiologists have made clear another surge of the virus is inevitable and is likely to start in September or October. He warned against relaxing restrictions too quickly and urged for the infrastructure built to deal with the second wave of the virus to “remain in position and … be augmented further.” 

Further Reading 

“Just How Big Could India’s True Covid Toll Be?” (The New York Times)

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