‘Deaths in every second house’ as Covid-19 invades rural India

Country again reports record daily rise in infections, deaths

BENGALURU: India reported a record 412,262 Covid-19 cases and a record daily death toll of 3,980 yesterday, as a second wave of infections moved from cities into the vast countryside.

Coronavirus infections in the world's second-most populous nation have surged past 21 million, with the total death toll at 230,168, according to Health Ministry data.

The crisis has been most acute in the capital, New Delhi, but the challenge in rural areas - home to nearly 70 per cent of India's 1.3 billion people - is also immense because public healthcare there is limited.

"The situation has become dangerous in villages," said Mr Suresh Kumar, a field coordinator with Manav Sansadhan Evam Mahila Vikas Sansthan, a human rights charity. In some villages where the charity works in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh - home to about 200 million people - "there are deaths in almost every second house," he said.

"People are scared and huddled in their homes with fever and cough. The symptoms are all of Covid-19, but with no information available, many think it is the seasonal flu."

India's Goa state, a popular tourist destination on the western coast, has the highest rate of infections, with up to one in every two people testing positive in recent weeks, government officials said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been widely criticised for not acting sooner to suppress the second wave, after religious festivals and political rallies drew tens of thousands of people in recent weeks and became super-spreader events.

The country's top scientific adviser has warned of a possible third wave of infections. "Phase three is inevitable, given the high levels of circulating virus," principal scientific adviser K. Vijayraghavan told a news briefing on Wednesday.

"We should prepare for new waves."

Government modelling had forecast a peak in second wave infections by Wednesday, which did not happen.

"This temporarily halts speculations of a peak," Professor Rijo M. John at the Indian Institute of Management in the state of Kerala said on Twitter.

Medical experts said India's actual figures could even be five to 10 times the official tallies. - REUTERS