The coronavirus wave that plunged India into the world’s biggest health crisis has the potential to worsen in the coming weeks, with some research models projecting that the death toll could more than double from current levels.
India accounted for nearly half of the COVID-19 cases reported worldwide last week and one in four of deaths, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.
"India accounts for over 90% of both cases and deaths in the region, as well as 46% of global cases and 25% of global deaths reported in the past week," the Geneva-based agency said in its weekly epidemiological report.
A team at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore used a mathematical model to predict about 404,000 deaths will occur by June 11 if current trends continue. A model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington forecast 1,018,879 deaths by the end of July.
While coronavirus cases can be hard to predict, particularly in a sprawling nation like India, the forecasts reflect the urgent need for India to step up public health measures like testing and social distancing. Even if the worst estimates are avoided, India could suffer the world’s biggest Covid-19 death toll. The U.S currently has the largest number of fatalities at around 578,000.
India added 357,229 new cases on Tuesday, taking its total outbreak past 20 million infections and overall death toll to 222,408. In recent weeks, the scenes on the ground, with long lines outside crematoriums and hospitals turning away ambulances, have painted a picture of a nation overwhelmed by the crisis.
“The next four to six weeks are going to be very, very difficult for India,” said Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University School of Public Health. “The challenge is going to be to do things now that will make sure it is four weeks, not six or eight, and that we minimize how bad things will get. But in no way is India anywhere near out of the woods.”
A spokesperson for the health ministry couldn’t immediately be reached. The ministry said on Monday that in about a dozen states, including Delhi, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra, there are early signs that the number of daily new infections are starting to plateau.