India’s confirmed COVID-19 cases yesterday crossed 7 million, with the number of new cases falling in the past few weeks, even as health experts warned of mask and social distancing fatigue setting in.
The Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare registered 74,383 new infections in the past 24 hours. India is expected to become the pandemic’s worst-hit country in coming weeks, surpassing the US, where more than 7.7 million infections have been reported.
The ministry also reported 918 additional deaths, taking total fatalities to 108,334.
The number of people who have died of COVID-19 has remained relatively low in South and Southeast Asia — from India to Vietnam and Taiwan — compared with European countries and the US, Indian government health expert Randeep Guleria said.
“We have been able to keep the curve rise slow, but I do agree that we have not been able to get it to move aggressively down. That’s related to our population density, diversity of our country and socioeconomic challenges in our country,” said Guleria, referring to India’s burgeoning population of nearly 1.4 billion.
India aims to provide vaccines to 250 million people by July next year, Indian Minister of Health and Family Welfare Harsh Vardhan said last week.
The government was planning to receive 450 million to 500 million vaccine doses and would ensure “equitable access,” he said.
India has averaged more than 70,000 cases daily so far this month. The country has a high recovery rate of 85 percent, the ministry said.
Health officials have warned about the potential for the virus to spread during the upcoming religious festival season, which is marked by huge gatherings in temples and shopping districts.
A crucial factor would be people wearing masks and maintaining a safe distance.
S.P. Kalantri, a hospital director in the village of Sevagram in India’s worst-hit western Maharashtra State, said that people in his village had stopped wearing masks, maintaining distance or washing their hands regularly.
Sick people were still being brought in to his hospital, he said.
India’s meager health resources are poorly divided across the country. Nearly 600 million Indians live in rural areas, and with the virus hitting India’s vast hinterlands, experts worry that hospitals could be overwhelmed.
“If we are able to have good behavior in terms of physical distancing and masks, maybe by early next year we should be able to come to a new normal. COVID-19 will not finish, but it will be under reasonable control with travel and other things becoming much more easier and people relatively safer,” Guleria said.
Retired virologist T. Jacob John said there was an increasing tendency among Indians not to wear masks or maintain distancing.
Social media have compounded the problem by propagating misinformation and fake cures.
“And the result of this is that people have gotten fed up and have started making their own conclusions,” John said.
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