NEW DELHI - India's tally of coronavirus cases topped six million on Monday as the country - currently the second worst hit - continued to have the highest daily number of new cases in the world.
With no let-up in sight, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged Indians to follow rules that mandate wearing face masks. "These rules are weapons in the war against corona. They are potent tools to save the life of every citizen," he said in a monthly radio address Sunday.
The virus has surged since public transport, businesses, markets, hotels, restaurants and bars reopened in most cities after India began easing its stringent lockdown. Two million cases were added in the last 23 days.
"We have seen the most rapid rate of rise of infections in the last few weeks and that testifies to the fact that our control strategies have not really been effective post the lockdown," according to K. Srinath Reddy, President of the Public Health Foundation of India in New Delhi. "There was greater laxity in wearing masks and in holding crowded events, giving the virus easy access to people. This could have been slowed down."
Although the number of daily cases has dropped marginally in recent days, giving some optimism that the peak may have passed, health experts caution that the coming festival season poses a challenge. "Static crowds, indoors or outdoors, or slow-moving crowds in shopping areas will be problematic in terms of triggering super spreader events, especially when people are not wearing masks," Reddy said.
No more lockdowns
However, authorities have indicated that the country will not impose any more lockdowns as the focus turns to reviving India's battered economy and most public health experts agree that shuttering the country cannot stop but only delay the virus.
With the number of fatalities due to the virus in India likely to touch 100,000 within days, public health experts say the stress should be on controlling the death toll. On Monday, the health ministry reported 95,542 deaths.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, also called on citizens to guard against a sense of complacency. "We are far from having achieved any kind of herd immunity which necessitates that all of us should continue following Covid-appropriate behavior," the health minister said during an interaction with social media users.
Herd immunity happens when a large part of the community develops antibodies against the virus, acting as a wall against its further spread.
After recent surveys in some of India's densely populated cities such as the Indian capital, Mumbai and Pune have shown that nearly 30 percent of the people have antibodies for coronavirus, some health experts had expressed optimism that the country could eventually achieve herd immunity but others say it could be months or years before that happens, if it ever does.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Modi in his address to the United Nations General Assembly Saturday pledged to help produce potential coronavirus vaccines for other countries, saying India's huge pharmaceutical industry would be an asset in the pandemic.
"As the largest vaccine-producing country of the world, I want to give one more assurance to the global community today," he said "India's vaccine production and delivery capacity will be used to help all humanity in fighting the crisis."