India’s new confirmed coronavirus infections are steadily declining because of regional lockdowns and increased levels of antibodies among the population, according to public health experts.
At least 150,000 people have died in the past two months as the country has been hit by a devastating second wave that overwhelmed health systems and caused acute shortages of medical supplies.
But India's seven-day moving average of new daily infections has fallen to 237,000, down from a peak of 392,000 in early May. The country's test positivity rate has also dropped to 9.4 per cent from a high of about 23 per cent earlier this month, although this is still well above the 5 per cent threshold the World Health Organisation considers the benchmark for having a pandemic under control.
Bhramar Mukherjee, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan, said the actual number of infections in the recent wave was probably 10-15 times higher than the official data. But she said the trend was clear, as people have retreated into their homes and avoided crowded places.
“The absolute numbers are all garbage, but the relative trends can still be picked up,” she said. “The true curve is much, much higher but it follows the same trajectory.”
"We still estimate that about 40 per cent of India is infected," Prof Mukherjee added. "It's not enough to reach herd immunity but probably a lot of people right now have antibodies and those who do not are practising social distancing."
India is still recording more than 4,000 deaths a day, close to its pandemic peak.
Although the spread of the virus is slowing down on a national level, there are still widespread regional variations. Rijo John, a health economist at the Rajagiri College of Social Sciences, said new cases are dropping sharply in densely populated areas such as Delhi and Maharashtra but infections in some other states were still on an upward trend.
The paucity of testing also made it hard to gauge trends accurately in rural areas, he added.
“Your test positivity rate may look good on paper but that may not be the reality,” he said. “Most of our testing infrastructure is disproportionately concentrated in cities. Daily tests are now 2.2 million a day, which is good, but how much of this is done in rural areas?”
Authorities now face the challenge of trying to ease restrictions and revive economic activity without contributing to a sharp rebound in cases.
Indian business activity and mobility is at 60 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, according to the Nomura Business Resumption Index - comparable with conditions in June last year, when the country was under lockdown - after returning to pre-pandemic levels in February.
The country is also struggling with a slow vaccine rollout. India has administered just over 200 million vaccine doses or about 14 per 100 residents, compared with 91 doses per 100 resident in the UK, 59 doses per hundred in Singapore and 37.7 per hundred in China. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021