INDIA’S MOUNTAIN of new covid-19 infections is like none other in the course of the pandemic. On April 30th the daily tally of new cases surpassed 400,000, making the country’s current caseload far and away the heaviest yet (the next-biggest outside India was America’s 300,000 new cases recorded on January 2nd). Even that terrible figure is sure to be an underestimate. The share of Indians testing positive for covid-19 is now 23.5%; if a greater proportion of India’s population of 1.4bn were tested, no doubt millions of new cases would be detected. Compared with the scale of South Asia’s first wave, which peaked in September, the second is shocking. South America, another region with a surging caseload, is recording 60% more cases today than at the peak of the first wave. South Asia is logging four times as many, and with hardly a sign of slowing (see chart).
Deaths are now rising rapidly, too. With nearly 3,700 on May 1st, South Asia is logging deaths at the pace the European Union reached during its calamitous peaks of April and November 2020 (see chart). This tally, too, is almost certainly an underestimate. India’s data are collected according to different standards in different places, sometimes apparently with an eye to downplaying the crisis. Some of the country’s most populous states, such as Gujarat with its 64m people or Uttar Pradesh with its 238m, are attributing only tiny fractions of their current excess deaths to covid-19. Simple observation suggests that the true death toll is higher than the official figures suggest. On one day two weeks ago 78 covid deaths were recorded in seven Gujarati cities. On the same day in the same cities 689 funerals were performed under protocols reserved for coronavirus victims.
There are faint glimmers of hope amid the gloom. At the weekend the test-positivity rate in Mumbai, the country’s commercial capital, dipped into the single digits, before bobbing back up to 13%. The “Maximum City” has been unusually well organised in its efforts to contain the virus and provide critical care. But perhaps more crucially, India’s second wave hit Mumbai and the rest of Maharashtra state first. The rest of the country may hope that its trajectory is a sign of things to come.