India’s Worsening COVID-19 Crisis

Jane Heise, Print Editor-in-Chief

With a total population of 1.4 billion, India’s initial COVID-19 wave remained relatively under control. The country seemed to open up by January, with citizens walking around maskless and politicians holding large campaign rallies. However, according to the New York Times, India’s capital of New Delhi now has a COVID-19 positivity rate of 36%, meaning at least one in three people test positive for the disease.

During the early months of 2020, India dealt with the disease better than most epidemiologists expected, given their massive population and crowded cities. Just a month ago, India’s positivity rate came in at less than 3%. Most of the Indian population had resumed life as normal, with cities bustling and most residents traveling maskless after the calm first wave. Within a month, the positivity rate shot up and Indian epidemiologists now report at least 350,000 new cases each day. That number is expected to rise quickly to 500,000 new cases each day, and many predict that one million Indians will die from COVID-19 infections by Aug. 2021. 

New Delhi, a COVID-19 hotspot in India, has crematoriums working day and night in a desperate effort to dispose of the thousands of bodies dying each day. Many of those who feel sick enough to require hospitalization now die in their homes or on the street, with hospitals overcrowded and lacking proper oxygen and medicine to perform life saving procedures. For those living in poverty, the disease has spread like wildfire; without the ability to wear a mask and properly social distance, COVID-19 has ravaged many underserved communities and destroyed families that were perfectly healthy just a month ago. 

The fear of a new strain remains very real, as some Indian doctors report that they fell extremely ill, despite already receiving both vaccine doses. According to the BBC, a new strain, B.1.617, has two deadly mutations that make it less susceptible to vaccines and more contagious than the original virus, and many fear this new strain has overtaken the country. 

Additionally, India’s vaccine distribution underwhelms the desperate population. According to the BBC, only 17 million of the 1.4 billion population have gotten fully vaccinated, and only 109 million have received their first dose. India’s current vaccination goal is 250 million vaccinations by July, which looks highly unlikely given its current health crisis. Many epidemiologists express their frustration that the Indian government did not take advantage of the calm past few months to rapidly vaccinate its citizens, as the government now has hundreds of thousands of new cases each day and overflowing hospitals. India usually remains at the forefront of vaccinations, but COVID-19 strays from the norm; many of the country’s population lives in rural areas, unaware of how to register or access the vaccine. 

The international community remains deeply concerned for India, as a dire situation like this could have devastating global impacts due to the contagious nature of this disease.