More than 63 million Indians may have already contracted Covid-19, according to a new sero-survey conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), ten times higher than official figures.
Between mid-August and mid-September, the ICMR took blood samples from over 29,000 Indians in 700 districts across the vast country.
One in 15 people over the age of 10 were found to have developed Covid-19 antibodies, which are produced after the body has successfully fought off the infection.
If this prevalence rate is then applied to the 966 million Indians over the age of ten, it would equate to 63.78 million citizens having already been exposed to the virus.
India’s public healthcare system is one of the most underfunded in the world with just £1.50 spent per citizen and funding limitations meant it took until August for the country to reach the milestone of one million daily tests.
Despite this increase, India’s testing rate still lags far behind other nations with major outbreaks of Covid-19.
Only 80 Indians are being tested per 100,000 people, compared to 284 in the United States and 329 in the United Kingdom, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The lack of available tests is also being exacerbated by a pre Covid-19 shortage of 600,000 doctors and two million nurses in its public healthcare system, meaning only those who are seriously ill are given an appointment.
The cost of a Covid-19 test in a private clinic is approximately ₹6,000 (£63) - unaffordable for many in a country where 270 million people still live below the poverty line.
The Indian Ministry of Health has estimated that 92 percent of cases are asymptomatic, so it is likely many people have contracted the virus without realising and have not been tested.
India’s epidemic certainly shows no sign of slowing with 41 percent of its official cases and 34 percent of deaths registered in September. The 2.6 million new infections in September was a new global monthly record.
India is extremely unlikely to enter into another strict lockdown despite the surge, after its two-month curfew from March caused economic devastation with over 120 million Indians losing their jobs in April alone.
Public health experts fear the caseload will only increase further as restrictions continue to be lifted to protect livelihoods, while November will likely see many of India’s Hindus attend large gatherings as they celebrate Diwali.
India’s official death rate is expected to surpass the grim milestone of 100,000 tomorrow, although there are question marks over this figure too.
India’s death rate is just 7.1 per 100,000 - far below that of the United States at 62.4 and the United Kingdom at 62.5 per 100,000.
While the nation has a young population, healthcare professionals say Covid-19 deaths are only being recorded as such when there is no comorbidity.
On Wednesday, family members of the deceased in the state of Odisha took to social media in protest after their loved ones were missing from official death records.
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