India detects record 82,000 new coronavirus cases in one day

Highest single-day coronavirus case count of any country as government downplays issue

An Indian health worker takes a nasal swab sample from  a teacher to test for Covid-19 in Gauhati, India. Photograph: Anupam Nath/AP

An Indian health worker takes a nasal swab sample from a teacher to test for Covid-19 in Gauhati, India. Photograph: Anupam Nath/AP

 

India has recorded the highest single-day coronavirus case count of any country with 82,860 new infections even as Narendra Modi’s government pushes ahead with reopening its shattered economy.

The country has 3.8m confirmed coronavirus infections, the third highest total in the world. Only the US and Brazil have recorded more cases.

But since the middle of August India has been detecting the highest number of new infections across the globe every day, nearly double those in the US and Brazil.

More than 67,000 Indians, including former president Pranab Mukherjee, have died from the disease, with the death toll climbing above 1,000 people a day.

Despite the grim figures, Mr Modi’s government has downplayed the severity of the pandemic as it struggles to revive the economy. Gross domestic product contracted by 24 per cent year-on-year in the second quarter while the country was under a stringent lockdown.

Instead of emphasising the dangers posed by the pathogen, New Delhi’s public messaging has been focused on reassuring Indians that the country’s recovery rate was rising and that its fatality rate was one of the lowest in the world.

Amit Shah, India’s home minister and one of Mr Modi’s most trusted lieutenants, declared that India was waging one of the world’s most successful battles against coronavirus shortly before he was hospitalised for weeks after being infected. Mr Modi no longer discusses the pandemic publicly.

‘Complacent’

“The numbers are alarming,” said Shahid Jameel, chief executive of the Wellcome Trust/DBT Alliance, a biomedical research charity. “This constant rosy narrative from the government that our recovery rate is improving, our death rate is low, has made people complacent. I feel this is the reason for the spike in cases.”

Mr Jameel added: “People need to understand the gravity of the situation. I am in support of opening up and reviving the economy – lockdowns won’t work – but there has to be very strict guidance on wearing masks in public and that is not happening.”

Early in the pandemic, nearly 70 per cent of India’s case burden was concentrated in cities, where healthcare infrastructure is stronger. But Mr Jamil said about two-thirds of the newly detected cases are emerging from small towns and rural districts, where healthcare infrastructure is far weaker.

Just 20 per cent of India’s doctors – and 35 per cent of government hospital beds – are in rural districts, which is where the majority of India’s 1.4 billion population lives.

But the government is wrestling with a deepening public finances crisis and is encouraging greater economic activity.

Services in big cities, which have been virtually shut down since March, are expected to restart next week while in the southern state of Karnataka, bars have reopened, albeit with just 50 per cent capacity.

However schools, also closed since March, remain shut, and India’s estimated 270m schoolchildren have little prospect of returning to the classroom any time soon. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020