More than 63 million people in India may have contracted Covid-19, health authorities said on Tuesday — about 10 times higher than the official reported figures.
A national survey of more than 29,000 people across 700 villages and wards found that about one in 15 people above the age of 10 had antibodies against the coronavirus, according to the Indian Council of Medical Research. The survey was conducted from mid-August to mid-September.
Antibody tests, also known as serology tests, check for proteins called antibodies in the immune system, which indicate if someone has been exposed to the virus.
Of the country’s 1.3 billion citizens, more than 966 million are aged 10 or above, according to the government’s most recent census in 2011. If one in 15 people of this group have been infected with Covid-19, that’s a total of 63.78 million people.
As of Wednesday, India has reported more than 6.1 million cases and 96,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
The survey suggests that for every one infection officially reported, there are actually 26 to 32 people infected who slip through the cracks, said Dr. Balram Bhargava, director of the medical council, at a news conference on Tuesday.
This falls in line with what many experts have warned for months — that India’s coronavirus crisis may be much more dire than official figures suggest.
There are numerous reasons for this: People simply aren’t getting tested enough. There are sometimes errors in reporting and registering cases. Changing government strategies can muddle the numbers and paint a misleading picture of the situation.
The government began rolling back restrictions in May after a months-long lockdown, with ministers turning their attention to reopening the economy and public services. But experts, including Bhargava, warn that it’s too soon to relax.
“Since a large proportion of the population is still susceptible, prevention fatigue has to be avoided,” Bhargava said, adding that the risk of infection was highest in urban slums where millions live in crowded conditions, often with limited sanitation or running water.
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