India may overtake the U.S. as having the highest number of coronavirus cases in the world within the next few weeks, adding more than 96,000 cases in just 24 hours on Thursday with no sign of slowing down.
The country of 1.3 billion people has 5.21 million confirmed coronavirus cases to date, but cases there are climbing more rapidly than in the U.S., which has a 7-day average of just under 40,000 new cases with a total of 6.88 million to date.
Part of the reason for the jump in cases may be due to increased testing, which went from 200,000 to 1 million per day between June and August, according to the New York Times. But even now, the numbers continue to climb.
India’s health ministry said that 60% of the new cases were concentrated in 5 of its 28 states: Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. The spike comes as many parts of the country have reopened after lengthy shutdowns and millions of people have left the cities to go to rural areas.
Fewer deaths, but many may be unreported
Currently, India’s reported deaths total just 84,372, but officials worry that the number is a vast undercount because most people die at home there, not in hospitals.
Only 22% of deaths in India are certified and have an official cause of death. Unofficially, many crematoriums have reported higher than normal numbers of bodies, which could indicate that many more are dying from the virus than are being reported.
Even so, more than 1,000 deaths a day are now being reported, about the same as in the U.S. even though India has more than four times the population. And these numbers are likely to climb even more as the spike continues.
Another reason India might have fewer deaths than other countries is that the population is younger, and rates of obesity are low. Older people with comorbidities like obesity, heart disease and diabetes are more at risk of serious complications and death from the disease.
On the other hand, NBC News reported that many people aren’t concerned about the virus and are not taking precautions, which is likely to fuel spread and increase both cases and deaths.
It’s really impossible to measure the true scope of COVID-19’s impact in countries like India and China, which have huge populations but hundreds of millions who live in poverty without access to testing and hospitals for treatment.
Extrapolating the 22% figure out to India’s total population, the number of cases and deaths would far surpass those in the U.S. But there’s really no way to know.
In world opinion about the coronavirus response, it’s like the U.S. is being punished for having less poverty and greater ability to take care of its people.