India's coronavirus cases pass 10 million

By: AFP      Published: 10:01 AM, 19 Dec, 2020
India's coronavirus cases pass 10 million
People wearing facemasks as a preventive measure against the Covid-19 coronavirus are seen inside a shopping mall in Thane on the outskirts of Mumbai.–AFP

India surged past 10 million coronavirus cases on Saturday, official data showed, the second highest in the world although new infection rates appear to have fallen sharply in recent weeks.

Total cases were 10.0 million, up just over 25,000 in 24 hours, with 9.6 million recoveries and 145,136 deaths, according to the health ministry.

In September, the vast nation of 1.3 billion people had been recording daily new cases of almost 100,000 and looked on track to surpass the United States as the worst-hit country.

But the pandemic has accelerated in the US and appears to have lost momentum in India, despite the country being home to some of the most crowded cities on the planet.

The United States, with a population a quarter the size of India's, has been reporting upwards of 200,000 new cases in recent weeks, 10 times as many as India.

India's fatality rate is also considerably lower -- less than half that of the US. Brazil has also reported more deaths at 185,000.

Residents in the capital New Delhi told AFP they were still worried but were more comfortable than before about leaving their homes.

"Obviously the fear levels have come down over time. Initially, it was more scary. Now we don't worry that much," housewife Huma Zaidi said. "But we are still taking precautions like wearing masks when going out and avoiding social gatherings."

India has lifted restrictions on most activities to boost the struggling economy, although some states and territories have reimposed curbs to stem the spread of the virus.

- Cold-chain concerns -

The 10-million mark came as the world's second-most populous nation gears up for the vast and challenging task of starting to vaccinate the population next year.

The government aims to inoculate 300 million people initially, with health workers and other frontline staff expected to be the first to receive the jabs.

India has yet to approve any vaccines but several drugmakers have applied for authorisation, including AstraZeneca, which has partnered with India's Serum Institute, the world's largest vaccine maker.

Health ministry officials were expected to meet staff from the Election Commission -- which carries out vast state and national polls -- in the next few days as they map out how to distribute the shots, the Press Trust of India reported Thursday.

Experts have cautioned that the country could struggle because of its weak cold-chain infrastructure -- needed for keeping vaccines refrigerated -- particularly in poor and densely populated urban areas and remote rural regions.

"All the experience that India has in vaccinating is on the much smaller game of annual vaccinations of children," Satyajit Rath, an immunologist at the National Institute of Immunology, told AFP.

"I'm not sure that India's public healthcare systems are sufficiently developed... Even mildly below-freezing requirements (for vaccine transportation and storage) are likely to prove extremely challenging in the rural hinterland's healthcare system services."