India’s virus cases are falling, but the WHO expert says positive tests are threateningly high

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Vijay Raju’s family members who died of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) mourn before being cremated in a crematorium in the village of Giddenahalli on the outskirts of Bengaluru, India on May 13, 2021. REUTERS / Samuel Rajkumar / File photo

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India reported another drop in new coronavirus cases on Monday, but daily deaths remained above 4,000 and experts said the count was unreliable because there were none in rural areas where the virus is spreading rapidly Tests have been carried out.

Nowhere in the world has the pandemic been more affected for months than in India, as a new strain of the virus triggered a surge in infections that rose to more than 400,000 daily.

Even with a downturn in recent days, experts said there was no certainty that the infections had peaked and the alarm at home and abroad about the highly contagious variant B.1.617, which was first found in India, has risen .

“There are still many parts of the country that have not yet peaked, they are still rising,” the World Health Organization’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan was quoted as saying in the Hindu newspaper.

Swaminathan pointed to the “very high” national positivity rate in around 20% of tests performed as a sign that things could get worse.

“Testing is still inadequate in a large number of states. And when you see high test positivity rates, we are obviously not testing enough.

“And so the absolute numbers actually mean nothing if they are only taken by themselves. They have to be determined in connection with the number of tests performed and the positivity rate of the tests.”

After the health ministry began the decline last week, 281,386 new infections were detected in the past 24 hours on Monday, falling below 300,000 for the first time since April 21. The daily number of deaths was 4,106.

At the current rate, India’s total pollution since the epidemic a year ago should exceed 25 million in the next few days. The total number of deaths was estimated at 274,390.

Hospitals had to turn away patients, while funerals and crematoriums were unable to cope with heaped bodies.

Photos and television images of the Pyrenees burning in parking lots and bodies washing up on the banks of the Ganges have fueled impatience with the government’s handling of the crisis.

It is generally accepted that the official figures greatly underestimate the real impact of the epidemic. Some experts say the actual infections and deaths could be five to ten times higher.

‘ILLUSION’

While the first wave of the epidemic in India, which peaked in September, was mainly concentrated in urban areas where the tests were being rolled out faster, the second wave, which broke out in February, raged through rural towns and villages where around two-thirds of the population live The country’s 1.35 billion people live, and the testing in these places is very patchy.

“This decline in confirmed COVID cases in India is an illusion,” said S. Vincent Rajkumar, professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in the US, on Twitter.

“First, the total number of cases is a huge underestimate due to limited testing. Second, confirmed cases can only occur if you can confirm: the urban areas. Rural areas are not counted.”

A cyclone en route to the Gujarat coast on Monday is expected to disrupt both testing and vaccination efforts in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state, where infections have increased 30% since May 2.

While lockdowns have helped limit cases in parts of the country hit during an initial surge in infections in February and April, such as Maharashtra and Delhi, rural areas and some states are grappling with new waves.

The government on Sunday issued detailed guidelines for monitoring COVID-19 cases. The Ministry of Health urged villages to look out for people with flu-like illnesses and have them tested for COVID-19.

Modi has come under fire for delivering news to the public, leaving important lockdown decisions to states, and slow launching a vaccination campaign at the world’s largest vaccine maker.

India has fully vaccinated just over 40.4 million people, or 2.9% of its population.

A top virologist told Reuters on Sunday that he had stepped down from a government-established forum of scientific advisers to discover variants of the coronavirus.

Shahid Jameel, chair of the scientific advisory group of the forum known as INSACOG, declined to say why he resigned but said he was concerned that authorities were not paying enough attention to the evidence in setting policy.

(Global vaccination tracker: https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps/vaccination-rollout-and-access/)

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