India’s COVID-19 crisis that has been most acute in the megacities is now penetrating the rural areas, home to nearly 70% of India’s 1.3 billion people where limited public healthcare is posing challenges to the residents.
The first wave of the epidemic in India, which peaked in September 2020, was concentrated in urban areas, where testing was introduced faster, but, the second wave that erupted in February this year is rampaging through rural towns and villages where testing is very patchy.
Professor at the Immunology Department of Banaras Hindu University, Vijay Nath Mishra said if the pandemic spreads completely in villages then the already overwhelmed healthcare system across the country will collapse completely.
Residents in Bihar state on Monday (May 17) said they were deprived of medical facilities and people were dying without proper treatment as the healthcare system is overwhelmed.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is facing criticism for failing to prepare for the second wave, held a virtual interaction with top doctors of India on Monday to take stock of the pandemic situation across the country.
While lockdowns have helped limit cases in parts of the country hit during an initial surge of infections in February and April, such as Maharashtra and Delhi, rural areas and some states are dealing with fresh surges.
The government issued detailed guidelines for monitoring COVID-19 cases, with the health ministry asking villages to look out for people with a flu-like illness and get them tested for the coronavirus.
India reported a further decline in new coronavirus cases on Monday but daily deaths remained above 4,000 and experts said the data was unreliable due to a lack of testing in rural areas where the virus is spreading fast.
Less extensive testing and public awareness about the disease’s symptoms – especially in the countryside – mean the actual number of infections could be five to 10 times higher than reported, medical experts say.
(Production: Marissa Davison)