India cases cross 7 million as experts warn of complacency

NEW DELHI (AP) - India's confirmed coronavirus number surpassed 7 million on Sunday, with a number of new cases falling in recent weeks, despite health experts warning of a mask and fatigue distancing itself.
The Ministry of Health recorded an additional 74,383 infections in the past 24 hours. India is expected to be the hardest hit country of the pandemic in the coming weeks, outperforming the US, which has reported more than 7.7 million infections.
The ministry also reported 918 additional deaths for a total of 108,334 deaths.
The number of people who have died of COVID-19 has remained relatively low in South and Southeast Asia - from India to Vietnam and Taiwan - compared to European countries and the United States, said Dr. Randeep Guleria, a government health expert.
“We were able to hold the corner climb slowly, but I agree that we didn't manage to aggressively move it down. This has to do with our population density, the diversity of our country and the socio-economic challenges in our country, ”said Guleria, referring to India's emerging population of nearly 1.4 billion.
However, some experts say India's death toll may not be reliable due to poor reporting and health infrastructure, as well as inadequate testing.
India aims to provide vaccines to 250 million people by July 2021, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said last week. He said the government plans to get 450 to 500 million doses of vaccine and ensure "fair access".
India saw a sharp rise in cases in July, adding more than 2 million in August and another 3 million in September. The spread of the coronavirus has been slower since mid-September, when daily infections hit a record high of 97,894.
So far this month, an average of more than 70,000 cases are being treated every day. India has a high recovery rate of 85% for active cases under 1 million, according to the Ministry of Health.
Health officials have warned of the possible spread of the virus during the upcoming religious festival season, which is marked by large gatherings in temples and shopping areas.
A crucial factor will be people who wear masks and keep a safe distance.
Dr. P. P. Kalantri, a hospital director in the village of Sevagram in the hardest-hit western state of Maharashtra, India, said people in his village have stopped wearing masks, keeping their distance or washing their hands regularly. He added that the sick were still being taken to his hospital.
India's meager health resources are poorly distributed across the country. Almost 600 million Indians live in rural areas, and with the virus sweeping India's vast hinterland, experts fear hospitals may be overwhelmed.
“If we can behave well in terms of physical distance and masks, maybe we should be able to return to a new normal early next year. COVID-19 won't be ready, but it will be under reasonable control as travel and other things become a lot easier and people are relatively safer, ”Guleria said.
The retired virologist Dr. T. Jacob John said there was an increasing tendency among Indians not to wear masks or to keep their distance.
Social media has exacerbated the problem by spreading misinformation and false cures. "And the result is that people are fed up and come to their own conclusions," said John.
Nationwide, India tests more than 1 million samples per day, beating the World Health Organization's benchmark of 140 tests per 1 million people. Many of these are antigen tests that look for viral proteins and are faster but less accurate than RT-PCR, which confirm the coronavirus through its genetic code.
As the economy contracted a record 23.9% in the April-June quarter and millions became unemployed, the Indian government is further easing lockdown restrictions imposed in late March. The government announced a $ 266 billion stimulus package in May, but consumer demand and manufacturing have yet to recover.
A large number of offices, shops, businesses, liquor stores, bars and restaurants have reopened. Restricted national and international evacuation flights are operated together with the train service.
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AP Science Writer Aniruddha Ghosal contributed to this report.

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