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  HOME | World (Click here for more)

Rural Areas Sustain India’s COVID-19 Surge

NEW DELHI – Even after India crossed five million coronavirus cases, the infection curve has continued to rise with over 90,000 daily cases reported on average for the last 10 days, as the caseload has shot up due to the increasing number of infections in rural areas, home to a majority of the 1.35 billion population.

The fresh cases reported in India on Friday touched 96,424, marginally lower than the world-record daily tally of 97,570 registered by the South Asian country less than a week ago, even as total infections crossed 5.2 million according to the health ministry.

With this rate, India is now closing on and is expected to surpass the US, which has more than 6.7 million cases, currently the highest caseload in the world, and has been reporting around 40,000 daily cases.

However, the number of coronavirus deaths in India stood at 84,372 on Friday, including 1,174 reported within the last 24 hours, a relatively low death toll partially explained by the young population, with just 5 percent of the people being above the age of 65 according to the 2011 census.

The Indian government also highlighted a record number of daily recoveries on Friday, with 87,472 patients being declared free of the virus within the last 24 hours, which took the total number of recoveries to 4.1 million or 78.8 percent of the total positive cases reported since the pandemic broke out.

“The continuous streak of very high level of recoveries is a testimony of the effective clinical management and treatment protocols issued by the Union Government which have been updated from time to time with the emergence of new evidence,” the Indian health ministry said in a statement.

After initial panic among the population, which brought hospitals to the brink of collapse across the country, the population has relatively calmed down with more knowledge about the disease, which has led to patients with light symptoms isolating themselves at home, while private healthcare providers have joined hands with the public ones for treating the serious cases.

Nimrat Kaur, the regional deputy coordinator of the organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF), told EFE that this was the case in the northern state of Bihar – one of the poorest in the country – where the nonprofit is running a COVID-19 center.

“The dynamics have changed, (…) this has been great,” said the doctor, although warning that cases could continue to rise due to the easing of the strict lockdown which had been imposed by the government in March and has been gradually lifted since June.

Nearly all sectors of economic activity have been reopened by now, except schools and international flights, but Kaur said the health sector was “prepared” for a fresh peak.

A significant increase in the number of new cases has been reported from the rural areas, a phenomenon which the MSF coordinator linked to the massive migration of workers from the cities towards villages during the initial stage of the pandemic, especially in July, as jobs dried up during the lockdown.

“There is also a spike because of the increase in the number of tests,” Kaur said.

Fresh testing centers have been opened with an easier registration process, while awareness over the disease has slowly spread in the countryside, which houses around 70 percent of the Indian population.

Around 61.5 million tests have already been carried out in India, which has continuously increased daily testing capacity to exceed one million tests within the past 24 hours.

Among the new cases on Friday, around 60 percent have been reported from five of India’s 36 states and territories, with the western state of Maharashtra topping the charts with over 24,600 new cases, followed by the southern states of Karnataka (9,366) and Andhra Pradesh (8,702).

The Bathalapalli Hospital run by the Vicente Ferrer Foundation – recently recognized by the provincial government as the best private center for treating COVID-19 – is situated in the largely rural Andra Pradesh.

The head of the hospital’s infectious diseases department, Spanish doctor Gerardo Alvarez Uria, agreed that the situation had improved since May or June, when there were very few centers treating coronavirus patients.

“The hospital was completely full, we were unable to cope, it was a very difficult situation. Even now the cases continue to rise, but there are more hospitals ready to treat coronavirus patients. The situation is not as dramatic as earlier,” he told EFE.

He acknowledged that the number of rural patients was gradually increasing, but insisted that the villages had still not been “hit too hard.”

The doctor, who has spent more than 10 years working in India, appeared optimistic about the future of the pandemic in the country.

“I believe that we will reach a plateau soon, it could be a few weeks or months. (…) There can be another outbreak if they open schools without taking measures. (…) If that can be controlled, we can reach a plateau within weeks,” said the doctor.


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