Coronavirus deaths pass 100,000 in India

NEW DELHI (AFP) – Deaths from the novel coronavirus in India passed 100,000 yesterday, official data showed as the pandemic continued to rage across the world’s second most populous country.

A total of 100,842 people have now died, health ministry figures showed, giving India the third-highest death toll in the world behind the United States (US) and Brazil.

In terms of infections, India has recorded 6.47 million cases and is on course to overtake the US as the country with the most infections in the coming weeks.

India’s population of 1.3 billion is, however, around four times larger than that of the US, which has seen more than twice as many deaths, raising doubts about India’s official numbers.

“We do not know the reliability of death rates in India,” virologist T Jacob John told AFP.

“India does not have a public health surveillance system, documenting real-time all disease events and deaths,” he said.

Although India is carrying out some one million tests per day, as a percentage of the population its testing rate is much lower than many other countries.

The US, for example, has tested more than five times as many people as India proportionately, according to tracking website Worldometer.

That India’s real numbers might be much worse than the official data suggest is borne out by a string of studies measuring antibodies to the virus among the population.

On Tuesday, India’s lead pandemic agency released a survey suggesting that more than 60 million people – 10 times the official figure – could have contracted the virus.

At the same time, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is pressing ahead with opening up Asia’s third-largest economy even as virus cases surge.

A lockdown imposed in March not only failed to stop the spread of the virus but also caused misery for millions of people suddenly left jobless.

In the last quarter, the Indian economy – which even before the pandemic was struggling – shrank 24 per cent, one of the steepest drops of any major economy.

International commercial flights remain suspended although limited services, many to allow citizens to return to their home countries, have been operating.