Will India be the New COVID-19 Epicentre?

No signs of slowing down . . .

The Indian government this week reported more than five million COVID-19 cases in the country. The case count jumped by one million in less than two weeks. India, a country of 1.3 billion people, now stands second only to the U.S. with over six million COVID-19 cases. Epidemiologists and analysts fear that India may soon become the global epicentre of COVID-19. While most cases continue to come from the states of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu, the virus has now spread to remote rural areas, which makes it incredibly difficult to track.

Herd immunity or vaccines . . .

Concerns that the actual number of COVID-19 cases in India may be much higher than the official count looms heavy. A recently published article using data from Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) surveys from April to May indicates that there were over 6.4 million cases in May – much higher than the Indian government’s officially reported 85,000 cases. Meanwhile analysts are questioning whether herd immunity could work in India, or if it’s already at work. However, ICMR director, Dr. Rajni Kant, has cautioned against herd immunity’s effectiveness and instead believes current protective measures such as maintaining personal hygiene and social distancing to protect the population may be the best answer. Meanwhile, the Indian government is fast-tracking the development of COVID-19 vaccines. The Indian Health Minister, Harsh Vardhan, recently announced that a vaccine would be ready by March 2021.

How’s the rest of South Asia doing?

Similar to India, Bangladesh also imposed a strict lockdown, but only until May. However, unlike India, Bangladesh (345, 805 cases), Pakistan (304,386 cases), Sri Lanka (3,281 cases), and Nepal (61,593 cases) have experienced a relatively slow growth rate in their COVID-19 cases, which analysts attribute to their relatively young populations. As Foreign Policy reported, India’s median age is around 28, with Bangladesh and Pakistan even lower. But, the slow growth rates do not necessarily imply that the countries have managed to flatten the curve, as their test rates are also low.