India has reported more than 300,000 new coronavirus cases for a 12th straight day to take its overall caseload to just shy of 20 million, as scientists predict a peak in infections in the coming days.
With 368,147 new cases over the past 24 hours, India's total infections stand at 19.93 million, while total fatalities rose by 3417 to 218,959, according to health ministry data on Monday.
But while the virus-ravaged country’s devastation has made headlines worldwide for weeks on end, a smaller country is recording far more deaths per million.
Last week, Brazil became the second country to surpass 400,000 Covid deaths after the United States.
Why coronavirus is deadlier in Brazil
Although India has recorded five million more cases, Brazil’s death count is almost double, sitting at 407,639 deaths.
On a graph of daily new deaths per one million people, Brazil’s curve soars above India and the US.
Brazil’s population of 211 million is only a fraction of India’s 1.3 billion - so why is their death rate so high?
University of Queensland virologist Ian Mackay told ABC News that India is about to see a huge spike of deaths following a massive increase in cases.
"Brazil has had a lot of cases per day for quite a while - well above 60,000 cases for quite a part of this year - and India is seeing 300,000 cases a day," he said.
"That means that - very acutely, in perhaps a couple of weeks - the deaths (in India) will follow in massive numbers, much higher than what we're seeing now.
"We're already seeing those deaths from Brazil because the infections happened previously. In India, those infections are happening now in real time, so we have that lag time to wait to catch up for the death.”
Brazil’s surge in infections was being driven by the P.1 coronavirus variant that is believed to be 2.5 times more contagious that the original version.
But Dr Mackay said the variant alone wouldn’t have caused the skyrocketing rate of infections.
"It's not always just about the variant, it's happening because of the way the public health measures are in place to prevent spread of any variant of self-care," he said.
The vaccine rollout, with only about 13 per cent of people having received one shot to date, has not been enough to contain the spread without social restrictions, said Diego Xavier, a researcher at government health institute Fiocruz.
He also predicted more than 2000 deaths per day would become the norm without a major acceleration in vaccinations, as has been seen in countries like the US.
The experts blamed the death toll on the failure of government - from President Jair Bolsonaro to many state governors and mayors - to launch a strong enough response to the pandemic.
Bolsonaro has downplayed the severity of the virus since the beginning, opposed strict lockdown measures, failed to strongly endorse masks and only recently embraced vaccines.
India cases expected to peak any day now
Medical experts say real numbers across the country of 1.35 billion may be five to 10 times higher than the official tally.
But the health ministry offered a glimmer of hope, reporting that positive cases relative to the number of tests conducted fell on Monday for the first time since at least April 15.
India's coronavirus cases may peak between May 3-5, according to a mathematical model from a team of scientists advising the government, a few days earlier than a previous estimate as the virus has spread faster than expected.
Hospitals have filled to capacity, medical oxygen supplies have run short and morgues and crematoriums have been swamped as the country deals with the surge in cases.
- with Reuters
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