India is now registering nearly 350,000 new COVID cases a day, a development that has "staggered scientists," reports Smriti Mallapty at Nature. “I was expecting fresh waves of infection, but I would not have dreamt that it would be this strong,” says Shahid Jameel, a virologist at Ashoka University. (His comments came a few days ago, and things have only gotten worse.) A look at what's happening:
- False hopes: The Nature article notes that one reason for the surprise is that studies in January suggested more than half the population in India's biggest cities had tested positive for antibodies, which in theory should have provided some immunity. Now there are fears that those antibody tests might not have been representative of the whole population.
- Bad samples: It's possible the first wave may have hit the urban poor particularly hard, which led to distorted data. "The virus may be getting into populations that were previously able to protect themselves,” says virologist Gagandeep Kang. People in wealthy communities may have been able to isolate during the first wave, and they began going out when officials began speculating the worst was over.
- Other factors: More infectious variants and relaxed restrictions on public gatherings also appear to be factors in the new surge.
- Less protection? In the New York Times, David Leonhardt writes that a "major factor" may be that people who suffered mild or asymptomatic cases previously may not have had as much protection against subsequent infections as anticipated. He also takes note of the factors in the Nature article: "This combination—less immunity than many people thought, new variants and a resumption of activities—seems to have led to multiple superspreader events," he writes, citing Dr. Jennifer Lighter of New York University.
- Social media: The Indian government is being accused of censorship after ordering Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to block posts criticizing its handling of the crisis, reports the Wall Street Journal. People have been posting horror stories and images of loved ones gasping for breath and dying after being turned away by overcrowded hospitals.
- Deaths: The AP reports that graveyards and crematoriums are overwhelmed as well. India recorded more than 2,700 deaths over the past 24 hours to bring the total above 192,000, though both numbers are thought to be undercounts.
- Staying home: Hospitals are so jammed and medical oxygen so scarce that a black market has sprung up for oxygen and related equipment as people struggle to care for family members at home, reports the BBC.
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