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More than 63 million Indians may have been infected with Covid-19

More than 63 million people in India may have contracted Covid-19, about 10 times higher than official figures, according to the country’s health authority.

The Medical Research Council of India on September 29 said a national survey of more than 29,000 people in 700 villages and wards showed that one in 15 people had Covid-19 antibodies. The survey was conducted from mid-August to mid-September.

An antibody test, also known as a serological test, checks for proteins called antibodies in the immune system, indicating whether someone has been exposed to the virus.

Of India’s 1.3 billion people, more than 966 million are 10 years or older, according to the government’s 2011 census. If one in 15 people in this group is infected with Covid-19, the total would be about 63.78 million. Meanwhile, according to Worldomerter statistics, India has recorded more than 6.2 million cases and nearly 98,000 deaths.

According to Dr. Balram Bhargava, director of the Indian Medical Research Council, the survey found that for every officially reported infection, there are actually 26 to 32 unrecorded cases. This is in line with what many experts have warned for months, that the Covid-19 crisis in India could be much more severe than the official figures.

There are many reasons for this, mainly because people have not been fully tested. The Indian government started to loosen restrictions in May after a blockade for months, shifting to focus on reopening the economy and public services. However, experts, including Bhargava, warned it was too early to loosen the restrictions.

According to Bhargava, the risk of infection is highest in urban slums, where millions of people live confined, with limited sanitation or water. Slum residents had 15.6% antibody-carrying rates, nearly double the 8.2% detected in other urban residents. The figure in rural areas fell to 4.4%.

Ramanan Laxminarayan, a senior research scholar at Princeton University, predicts the actual case in India could reach 100 million. India has stepped up testing but is still far behind other major countries. According to Johns Hopkins University, only about 82 out of every 100,000 people in India get tested each day, compared with about 284 in the US and 329 in the UK.

Meanwhile, India’s death rate is 1.6%, which appears to be much lower than 2.9% in the US, 9.5% in the UK and 11.5% in Italy, according to Johns Hopkins University. However, the actual death statistics are also believed to be higher. Due to a lack of public health infrastructure, only 86% of deaths nationwide are recorded in the government system and only 22% of them have an official cause of death certified by a doctor.

At the presidential debate on September 29, US President Donald Trump doubted India’s Covid-19 data. “When it comes to numbers, he doesn’t know how many people died in China, Russia and India. They didn’t provide exact numbers,” Trump said.