India has recorded 10m Covid-19 cases, the second country after the US to reach the grim landmark, underscoring how strict containment measures have failed to stop the virus rampaging across its population of 1.4bn.
The world’s second most populous nation achieved the unwanted record on Saturday after notching 25,000 cases daily over the past week, down from a peak of almost 100,000 new infections per day in September.
India largely avoided the worst of the early waves of the virus that spread through Asia and Europe in March, before emerging as a global coronavirus hotspot.
The pandemic has exacted a heavy human and economic toll on the South Asian country, which was until last year the world’s fastest-growing large economy.
A chaotic national lockdown implemented at short notice by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in March ultimately did little to contain the virus after it took hold in crowded city slums, where families and groups of labourers live together in single rooms and lack access to clean toilets and water sources.
Number of deaths from Covid-19 in India
The spread accelerated after urban migrants left destitute by the lockdown carried the virus back to their rural homes, prompting new waves of infections in some of the country’s poorest districts.
India has recorded more than 145,000 deaths from Covid-19, the third-highest tally after the US and Brazil.
Public-health experts have been encouraged by the comparatively low death rate as a proportion of infections — possibly due to India’s relatively young population. However, they also fear that the true toll has been undercounted — perhaps because those infected died at home or because local authorities lacked the capacity to process the deaths.
Surveys conducted around the country that measure seropositivity rates have indicated that the virus’s spread has been far wider than the official numbers suggest.
Studies conducted in cities such as New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, as well as rural areas, have found that anywhere from a quarter to half of the subjects had antibodies indicating past exposure to Covid-19.
India’s gross domestic product shrunk a historic 24 per cent year on year in the three months to June, followed by a 7.5 per cent contraction in the September quarter.
The IMF expects India’s economy to shrink 10 per cent this year, though recent improvements in ground-level economic data have prompted some analysts to revise their estimates higher.
Authorities are hopeful that mass vaccination will help to contain the virus and get the economy back on track, aided by the fact that India is already the world’s largest producer of vaccines.
Several manufacturers have submitted their vaccine candidates to the country’s regulator for emergency use authorisation, including Pfizer and the Serum Institute of India, which is manufacturing the Oxford university-AstraZeneca vaccine.
A homegrown candidate developed by Bharat Biotech has also applied. Indian officials told the BBC that they hoped to begin vaccinations in January.
Capital Economics, an advisory company, said last week that widespread vaccination could boost India’s economic outlook.
Mr Modi on Saturday highlighted India’s capacity to manufacture vaccines for domestic and international use, touting its potential to turbocharge any economic recovery.
“The world has confidence in the Indian economy,” he said.