Poor hygiene and densely populated slums. At the beginning of the coronapandemic, India feared the worst. In the meantime, after the United States, the country has the highest number of coronavirus cases with over eleven million infections.
Still, things are going well in India. There is no question of bulging hospitals. The relative mortality rate is much lower than elsewhere, and the number of new cases per day has been declining in almost the entire country for weeks.
At its peak, in September, almost 100,000 people were tested positive every day in India. Now thats about 12,000. Even though the measures have been gradually easing since June. Almost everything is fully open again, including the cinemas, who have been allowed to sell all the seats since this month.
People are clearly less worried. In Delhi, where there were 30,000 cases of corona in December and now only 1,000, public places are crowded and visibly fewer people wear the mandatory mouthcap.
“ I think the worst is over,” says the leading virologist Shahid Jameel. “One possible reason is the young population of India: two-thirds of the people are under 35 years old. In younger people, the infection is often asymptomatic or milder. So a lot of people arent even tested, but theyre exposed. This is not seen in the official numbers of positive cases.”
A second possible explanation is that people in India, as well as in other South Asian countries, have to deal with many infectious diseases throughout their lives, says Jameel. “As a result, the innate or general resistance is higher. This keeps the virus under control in the throat and nose, but does not allow it into the lungs.”
Elections with high turnout
Jameel does not think that people in India are less likely to become infected, but that they do not always realize this. “It may be that the numbers are much higher. The most recent research showed that about 21 percent of Indians have antibodies. And that figure does not show the densely populated cities. In Delhi, for example, 55 to 60 percent of people now have antibodies. So where the virus spreads faster, a lot more people have already been exposed. Therefore, there are fewer new cases and the numbers of infections are going down.”
This may also explain why in some Länder the figures are rising cautiously again. In Maharashtra recently there were village elections with high turnout, which meant that people in villages were more likely to become infected. Also in Punjab, the centre of large peasant protests, the numbers are rising.
Not one patient
“ Of course, not all positive cases and coronadodes are counted,” says Jameel. “Its everywhere in a pandemic, because you cant test everyone. And in a country like India, where even in the best times not all deaths are reported, it is inevitable.”
Nevertheless, according to him, it is clear that things are going better now than a few months ago. “A good indication is what is happening in hospitals now. That was very different in September and October. There are over a hundred coronahospitals in Delhi alone, where not one patient lies. So although the official numbers may not be right, you cant miss these kinds of developments.”
The largest coronazorg center in the world, which was kicked out of the ground in southern Delhi in June with more than 10,000 patients, is now partially demolished. There are only about sixty patients left, almost all of whom came from abroad and tested positive at the airport upon arrival.
A woman at the entrance tries to convince the doctors that she should let her husband, who was tested positively after their honeymoon, go home with her. Hes not sick and can be quarantined at home, she says. But the doctors are inexorable. As long as it is not known whether her husband is infected with any of the new variants, he must remain in the center.
“ There are now about 300 known cases of the British variant in India,” says Jameel. “And there are also reports of a variant similar to that of South Africa, which has developed independently within India. This is worrying, so we must remain on our guard.”