India reports another decline in infections but experts not convinced

NEW DELHI India reported a further decline in coronavirus cases yesterday.

Having begun the decline last week, new infections over the past 24 hours were recorded at 281,386 by the Health Ministry, dropping below 300,000 for the first time since April 21. The daily death count stood at 4,106.

But experts said the data was unreliable due to a lack of testing in rural areas where the virus is spreading fast.

In a village in northern India engulfed by Covid-19, the sick lie on cots under a tree, glucose drips hanging from a branch. Cows graze all around, while syringes and empty medicine packets are strewn on the ground.

There is no doctor or health facility in Mewla Gopalgarh in Uttar Pradesh, a 90-minute drive from capital Delhi. There is a government hospital nearby but it has no available beds.

Instead, village practitioners of alternative medicine have set up an open-air clinic where they distribute glucose and other remedies to patients.

Some believe lying under the neem tree, known for its medicinal properties, will raise their oxygen levels. There is no scientific basis for this belief or for some of the other remedies being offered.

"When people become breathless, they have to go under trees to raise their oxygen levels," said Mr Sanjay Singh, whose father, 74, died two days after developing a fever. Mr Singh said his father was not tested .

"People are dying and there is nobody to look after us," he said.

About two-thirds of the country's 1.35 billion people live in rural towns and villages, and testing there is patchy.

"This drop in confirmed Covid cases in India is an illusion," professor of medicine S. Vincent Rajkumar at the Mayo Clinic in the US, said on Twitter.

"First, due to limited testing, the total number of cases is a huge underestimate. Second, confirmed cases can occur only where you can confirm: the urban areas. Rural areas are not getting counted."

World Health Organisation chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan pointed to the "very high" national positivity rate, at about 20 per cent of tests conducted, as a sign that there could be worse to come.

"Testing is still inadequate in a large number of states," she said. - REUTERS