The COVID-19 wave that plunged India into the world’s biggest health crisis has the potential to worsen in coming weeks, with some research models projecting that the death toll could more than double from present levels.
A team at the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru used a mathematical model to predict that about 404,000 deaths would occur by June 11 if current trends continue.
A model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington forecast 1,018,879 deaths by the end of July.
While COVID-19 cases can be hard to predict, particularly in a sprawling nation like India, the forecasts reflect the urgent need for India to step up public health measures such as testing and social distancing.
Even if the worst estimates are avoided, India could suffer the world’s biggest COVID-19 death toll. The US has the largest number of fatalities at 592,409.
India yesterday reported a record 3,780 deaths for an overall toll of 226,188, along with 382,315 new cases, taking its outbreak past 20.6 million infections.
In the past few weeks, the scenes on the ground, with long lines outside crematoriums and hospitals turning away ambulances, have painted a picture of a nation overwhelmed by the crisis.
“The next four to six weeks are going to be very, very difficult for India,” said Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University School of Public Health. “The challenge is going to be to do things now that will make sure it is four weeks, not six or eight, and that we minimize how bad things will get, but in no way is India anywhere near out of the woods.”
A spokesperson for the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare could not immediately be reached for comment.
The ministry on Monday said that in about a dozen states, including Delhi, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra, there are early signs that the number of daily new infections is starting to plateau.
For public health researchers, a key concern is the relative dearth of COVID-19 testing, which many scientists believe is causing a sharp undercounting of cases.
“It could honestly get a lot worse, which is hard to imagine given how staggering the impacts have already been when you see 400,000 new cases each day and you know that that’s probably an underestimation,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior academic at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, Maryland.
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