The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in India surpassed five million on Wednesday.
The Health Ministry reported 90,123 new cases in the past 24 hours, raising the total to 5,020,359 or about 0.35 percent of its nearly 1.4 billion population, reports AP.
It said 1,290 more people died during this period, taking the death tally to 82,066.
India’s coronavirus caseload is closing in on the United States’ highest tally of more than 6.6 million cases and expected to surpass it within the coming days.
India reported a record daily high of 97,570 cases on Sept 11 and has added more than 1 million cases this month alone.
Experts warned that India’s case fatality rate could increase in coming weeks with lockdown restrictions relaxed in many places except in high-risk areas.
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Authorities have ruled out imposing a second countrywide lockdown as recoveries were growing at more than 78 percent. Its fatality rate is 1.6 percent, far lower than 3 percent each in the US and Brazil, according to the Johns Hopkins Medicine and University.
Dr Gagandeep Kang, an infectious diseases expert from Christian Medical College in the southern Indian state of Vellore, said the increase in number of cases was inevitable. But the country still had the opportunity to try and restrict cases through a strategy of testing and isolating.
She said that the goal was for India to do enough testing to bring down test positivity rate, or fraction of tests that test positive to less than 5 percent or even less than 1 percent.
Hospitals could be overwhelmed
Most of India’s deaths are concentrated in its large cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai and Pune. But smaller urban centres like Nagpur or Jalgaon have also reported more than 1,000 deaths.
Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said on Tuesday that only about 6 percent of the patients in India were on oxygen — 0.31 percent on ventilators, 2.17 percent on intensive care unit beds with oxygen and 3.69 percent on oxygen beds.
Maharashtra state with more than 1 million cases remains the worst-affected region in India, followed by Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. These states account for more than 60 percent cases in the country.
The Health Ministry said 155 health workers, including 46 doctors, have died so far from coronavirus.
Nearly 600 million Indians live in rural areas, and with the virus spreading fast across the vast hinterlands, health experts worry that hospitals could be overwhelmed.
India is testing more than 1 million samples per day, exceeding the World Health Organization’s benchmark of 140 tests per 1 million people. But many of these are antigen tests, which look for virus proteins and are faster but less accurate compared to RT-PCR, the gold standard for confirming the coronavirus by its genetic code.
With the economy contracting by a record 23.9 percent in the April-June quarter, the government is continuing with relaxing lockdown restrictions that were imposed in late March. The government in May announced a $266 billion stimulus package, but consumer demand and manufacturing are yet to recover.
A large number of offices, shops, businesses, liquor shops, bars and restaurants have reopened. Restricted domestic and international evacuation flights are being operated along with train services.
From next week, schools will reopen for senior students from 9-12th standards for consultation with teachers.