Its coronavirus cases are skyrocketing, putting it among the world’s most worrisome pandemic zones in recent weeks. Nonetheless, India is reopening, lifting its lockdown at what experts fear may be the worst time. Migrant workers are becoming infected at an alarmingly high rate, leading to fresh outbreaks in villages across northern India. Public hospitals in Mumbai are so overwhelmed that patients have taken to sleeping on cardboard in the hallways. Doctors fear that the lockdown, which started over two months ago, has been eased too soon, after slowing the virus but failing to flatten the new-case curve as effectively as other nations have. If India does not find a way to curb the virus in high-risk states, epidemiologists project that its total caseload could approach a million within several weeks.
“India is not out of the woods,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. A“From a public health point of view, I do think the lockdown has brought the disease under control,” he said. “But of course, as restrictions have lifted in the last week or 10 days, the number of cases has started to rise quickly.” At first, India moved aggressively to contain the coronavirus. In late March, Prime Minister Narendra Modi implemented one of the most severe lockdowns anywhere, ordering all Indians to stay inside, halting transportation and closing most businesses. But the lockdown was brutally hard on the poorest Indians and those who rely on day labor to survive. And the country’s economy, which had already been ailing, was sustaining deep wounds. Government officials began lifting some restrictions last month, hoping to ease the suffering, and the lockdown may end entirely as soon as Sunday, if Mr. Modi does not decide to extend it.
Infections are rising quickly now, however, with outbreaks in some states that had reported few cases. This month, India’s doubling rate for new infections averaged about 12 days, putting it on par with countries of high concern like Brazil.