As the novel coronavirus continues to spread, public health experts are warning that the pandemic is starting to make inroads into rural areas, where healthcare systems are already buckling under pressure. The 1.3 billion-strong country is among the most densely populated regions on Earth, which gives the virus plenty of room for transmission.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi enforced a nationwide lockdown in March to head off infections early on. The restriction slowed down the spread of the virus, but it tanked the economy and hurt many of the country’s poor migrant workers. The government lifted the lockdown in June, which caused new cases to spike.
Currently, Modi and other senior officials are saying India’s handling of the coronavirus is better than wealthier countries, especially when it comes to the death rate. The country reports around 19 deaths per million; in comparison, the U.S. – the current leader in global caseload – has 429 deaths per million.
As of press time, India has 26,273 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Public health experts, however, argue that actual numbers could be significantly higher, as testing in the country remains sparse.
India’s coronavirus caseload has been steadily rising, with authorities reporting record numbers every day. Researchers at the Massachusets Institute of Technology estimate that the country will be the worst-hit nation in the world by the end of next year, given its rate of infections.
Despite taking swift action in the early days of the pandemic, more than 100 million Indians have lost their jobs. The economy isn’t faring too well either, with forecasts saying that it will contract by as much as 9.5 percent this fiscal year, a stark difference to its economy from the last decade. Public health experts say that Modi’s lockdown was too early. This also led migrant laborers, most of whom live in the city, to return to their home villages to survive. In the process, they became unwitting drivers of transmission, as they spread the virus into every corner of India. (Related: India’s coronavirus caseload surges after lockdown.)
In a bid to head off new cases, some states have reimposed lockdowns or movement restrictions. In Odisha, the state government enforced a lockdown in certain areas. Meanwhile, Goa – a popular beach destination – returned to lockdown a few weeks after reopening.
Cities such as Mumbai and New Delhi remain to be coronavirus hotspots; however, authorities are now reporting outbreaks in more rural areas, most of which have limited healthcare systems.
In Bihar, one of the poorest states in the country, the state government announced that lockdowns would continue until the end of the month, after logging around 1,000 new cases daily. The Health Ministry will send a special team to investigate the surge in new cases.
Across the country, schools and colleges continue to be shuttered and public transportation remains closed.
Meanwhile, the government is starting to restart international travel, as it plans to establish air bubbles with some countries.
“Under this arrangement, airlines from the concerned countries will be able to operate flights from [and] to India along with Indian carriers,” explained Hardeep Singh Puri, India’s minister for civil aviation.
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