Getting to grips with . . .

How India may have suppressed coronavirus while reopening its economy

Experts left searching for answers after dramatic - and unexplained - decline in Covid infections

Scientists are struggling to find answers to the question of why coronavirus infections in India have suddenly plummeted from record highs.

In September, the country was at one point on course for the biggest toll worldwide, reporting around 100,000 infections per day. But just months later, that figure has fallen to around 11,000 despite the country taking no obvious steps that would have triggered such a drastic change in infection rates. 

The sudden fall in cases has also played out in hospitals, where official figures released in September showed that 90% of critical care beds with ventilators were occupied in New Delhi compared with just 16% last week.

Experts have scrambled to explain the drop, with possible explanations ranging from the suggestion “that some areas of the country may have reached herd immunity or that Indians may have some pre-existing protection from the virus”, Al Jazeera reports.

Antibody studies have suggested “results above 50%”, Giridhar Babu, an epidemiologist at the Public Health Foundation of India, told The Times. “That itself is likely to be an underestimate. So the most densely-populated areas are already saturated and reaching the threshold of herd immunity.” 

The Indian government, meanwhile, has “partly attributed the dip in cases to mask-wearing, which is mandatory in public in India, with violations drawing hefty fines in some cities”, the broadcaster adds.

Adding to the experts’ confusion, many “safeguards” against the virus have been dropped in India, The Times says. “The economy has reopened fully, with just primary schools left to return” and potential “superspreader events are now becoming commonplace” with Prime Minister Narendra Modi restarting political rallies that attract hundreds of thousands of supporters.

Vaccines have also been “ruled out” as the cause of the decline in infections, as the country’s rollout “didn’t begin until January - although this is expected to brighten the outlook even further”, Sky News adds. Around seven million Indians have so far been vaccinated, according to Oxford University tracking, with the government pledging to give the jab to 300 million by July.

While the drop in infections is welcome, experts are racing to figure out the reason behind the sudden decline. Dr Shahid Jameel, who studies viruses at India’s Ashoka University, told Sky News: “If we don’t know the reason, you could unknowingly be doing things that could lead to a flare-up.” 

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