Its coronavirus cases are skyrocketing, putting it among the world’s most worrisome pandemic zones. Nonetheless, India is lifting its lockdown — at what experts fear may be the worst time.
Migrant workers are becoming infected at an alarmingly high rate, leading to fresh outbreaks in villages across northern India.
Almost half of the country’s 160,000 known cases have been traced to just four cities: New Delhi, Chennai, Ahmedabad and Mumbai, where public hospitals are so overwhelmed that patients have taken to sleeping on cardboard in the hallways.
Testing has also been severely restricted, making it tough to gauge the scope of the outbreak. India has administered only two tests for every 1,000 people, one of the lowest ratios among the world’s worst-afflicted countries. The testing is increasing, and officials have sounded alarms about an increasing proportion of positive results.
The lockdown, which started over two months ago, was one of the most severe anywhere. Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered all Indians to stay inside, halting transportation and closing most businesses.
The conditions were brutally hard on the poorest Indians and those who rely on day labor to survive. And the country’s economy, which had already been ailing, was sustaining deep wounds.
Government officials began lifting some restrictions last month, hoping to ease the suffering, and the lockdown may end entirely as soon as Sunday, if Mr. Modi does not decide to extend it.
In the end, the effort slowed the virus but failed to flatten the new-case curve. If India does not find a way to curb the virus in high-risk states, epidemiologists project that its total caseload could approach a million within several weeks.
Dr. G.C. Khilnani, a public health expert and pulmonologist, said a peak in infections might not be reached until the end of July. “Nobody can predict to what extent the numbers will go up,” Dr. Khilnani said.