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More than 60 million people in India may have contracted COVID-19

More than 63 million people in India may have contracted COVID-19, about 10 times higher than the official reported figures, according to health authorities.
A national survey of more than 29,000 people across 700 villages and wards found that about one in 15 people above the age of ten had antibodies against the coronavirus, according to the Indian Council of Medical Research.
A medical representative collects a swab sample from a resident for the COVID-19 coronavirus test in a residential area in Mumbai. (AFP via Getty Images)

The survey was conducted from mid-August to mid-September.

Antibody tests, also known as serology tests, check for proteins called antibodies in the immune system, which indicate if someone has been exposed to the virus.

Of the country’s 1.3 billion citizens, more than 966 million are aged ten or above, according to the government’s most recent census in 2011.

If one in 15 people of this group have been infected with COVID-19, that’s a total of 63.78 million people.

As of yesterday, India has reported more than 6.1 million cases and 96,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Health workers wheel the body of a coronavirus victim at a hospital in Mumbai. (EPA/AAP)

The survey suggests that for one infection officially reported, there are actually 26 to 32 people infected who slip through the cracks, Dr Balram Bhargava said, director of the medical council said.

This falls in line with what many experts have warned for months – that India’s coronavirus crisis may be much more dire than official figures suggest.

There are numerous reasons for this: people simply aren’t getting tested enough.

There are sometimes errors in reporting and registering cases.

Changing government strategies can muddle the numbers and paint a misleading picture of the situation.

The government began rolling back restrictions in May after a months-long lockdown, with ministers turning their attention to reopening the economy and public services.

But experts, including Dr Bhargava, warn that it’s too soon to relax.

People with covered faces as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, during nasal swab sample collection for Corona virus Rapid Antigen Testing (RAT), at Gandhi Darshan, Rajghat, in New Delhi. (NurPhoto via Getty Images)
“Since a large proportion of the population is still susceptible, prevention fatigue has to be avoided,” Dr Bhargava said, adding that the risk of infection was highest in urban slums where millions live in crowded conditions, often with limited sanitation or running water.

Slum residents had a seroprevalence – meaning they carried antibodies – of 15.6 per cent, almost double the 8.2 per cent detected in residents of non-slum urban areas.

The figure drops in rural areas to 4.4 per cent, according to the survey.

The survey shows how important it is for the Indian public to continue taking coronavirus precautions like social distancing and personal hygiene, especially during Diwali, the festival of lights.

The festival, which this year falls on November 14, is one of India’s biggest annual holidays, Dr Bhargava said.

“In light of the upcoming festivities, in light of the winter season and mass gathering, containment strategies must be implemented by the states and the use of masks cannot be underlined more than after this seroprevalence survey,” he warned.

“That is very, very essential.”

A healthcare worker checks the temperature of a girl during a screening for the COVID-19, in a slum area in Mumbai. (NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The numbers don’t show the full picture

Ramanan Laxminarayan, a senior research scholar at Princeton University, predicted that the country may be undercounting infections by a factor of 50 to 100 – meaning the “true” number could be upwards of 100 million.

One simple reason behind the discrepancy is insufficient testing.

India has stepped up its testing, almost doubling the amount of tests conducted during the month of August – but it still lags far behind other major countries.

Only about 82 of every 100,000 people in India are being tested per day, according to Johns Hopkins University – compared to about 284 in the US and 329 in the United Kingdom.

People rest by their shanties at Dharavi, during lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Mumbai. (AP/AAP)

“All the other countries test two times, three times, 10 times what India is testing,” community medicine specialist Dr Hemant Shewade told CNN earlier this month.

Meanwhile, India’s mortality rate of 1.6 per cent looks much lower than other countries – compared to 2.9 per cent in the US, 9.5 per cent in the UK, and 11.5 per cent in Italy, according to Johns Hopkins University.

But coronavirus deaths, too, are likely being undercounted.

Even when India isn’t facing a pandemic, its underfunded public health infrastructure means that only 86 per cent of deaths nationwide are even registered in government systems.

And only 22 per cent of all registered deaths get an official cause of death, certified by a doctor, Dr Shewade said.

Source: 9News | News Colony

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