60 million Indians may have coronavirus

New Delhi, India | Wed, September 30, 2020 | 3:19 pm

More than 60 million people in India — 10 times the official figure — could have contracted the novel coronavirus, the country’s lead pandemic agency said Tuesday, citing a nationwide study measuring antibodies.

India, home to 1.3 billion people, is the second-most infected nation in the world, with more than 6.1 million cases, just behind the United States, according to official statistics. According to the new serological survey, however, the real figure may be much higher — a research checking blood for certain antibodies to measure the proportion of a population that has fought off the virus.

“The key findings of this sero-survey are that by August, one in 15 individuals over 10 years of age had been exposed to SARS-CoV-2,” Director-General Balram Bhargava of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said at a press conference for the Ministry of Health. Among people screened in urban slums (15.6 percent) and non-slum urban areas (8.2 percent), Bhargava said evidence of virus exposure was more prevalent than in rural areas, where 4.4 percent of those surveyed had antibodies.

Between mid-August and mid-September, blood samples were obtained from just over 29,000 individuals in 21 states or territories. The new figures are a sharp leap from the findings of the first sero-survey, which the ICMR said showed that by May about 0.73% of India ‘s adults — about six million people — were infected. Other antibody research carried out in New Delhi, the capital, and Mumbai, the financial center, have indicated more infections than official figures claim.

However, scientists warn that antibody tests should be handled with caution because they also pick up exposure to other coronaviruses, not just the one that triggers COVID-19, the disease that has killed more than 1 million people around the world since it emerged late last year. India, which has one of the most poorly supported healthcare systems in the world, has gradually lifted a tight lockdown imposed in late March to revive its ravaged economy, even as infections are steadily increasing.

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