India’s total coronavirus cases tally surged past the 25 million mark, boosted by 263,533 daily new infections over the last 24 hours, while deaths from COVID-19 rose by a record 4,329.
India has now becomes the world’s second nation after the United States to pass this grim milestone.
The nation’s total case load now stands at 25.23 million, while the death toll is at 278,719, according to government data on Tuesday.
The number of infections began to dip last week, with new infections on Monday at 281,386 – the first time cases dropped below 300,000 since April 21.
“There are still many parts of the country which have not yet experienced the peak, they are still going up,” World Health Organization’s chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan sounded caution amidst early celebration by the government.
Swaminathan pointed to the worryingly high national positivity rate, at about 20 percent of tests conducted, as a sign that there could be worse to come.
“Testing is still inadequate in a large number of states. And when you see high test positivity rates, clearly we are not testing enough. And so the absolute numbers actually don’t mean anything when they are taken just by themselves; they have to be taken in the context of how much testing is done, and test positivity rate.”
Most hospitals have had to turn patients away while mortuaries and crematoriums have been unable to cope with bodies piling up. Corpses of suspected unaccounted Covid-19 bodies have been washing up on the banks of the Ganges river.
It is widely accepted that the official figures grossly underestimate the real effect of the epidemic, with some experts saying actual infections and deaths could be as much as 10 times higher.
While the first wave of the pandemic in India, which peaked in September, was largely concentrated in urban areas, the second wave that erupted in February is rampaging through rural towns and villages, where about two-thirds of the country’s 1.35 billion people live.
“This drop in confirmed COVID cases in India is an illusion,” S Vincent Rajkumar, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in the US, said on Twitter.
“First, due to limited testing, the total number of cases is a huge underestimate. Second, confirmed cases can only occur where you can confirm: the urban areas. Rural areas are not getting counted.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has come under strong criticism for his handling of the pandemic and vaccination drive. A forum of scientific advisers reportedly warned his government of the new and more contagious variants in March, but his government took no steps to caution people.