KEY POINTS

  • Health experts fear the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in India could be 30 times higher
  • A model estimates that COVID-19 deaths could hit more than 950,000 by July
  • The country could also reach a daily death toll of 13,000

Health experts fear the real number of COVID-19 cases in India could be 30 times higher than the 17.6 million cases recorded since the pandemic began last year. In other words, the number of cases would be over half a billion.

India is currently home to the world’s worst coronavirus outbreak, but health experts and scientists in the country suspect that the numbers are significantly underreported. 

"It's widely known that both the case numbers and the mortality figures are undercounts, they always have been," Ramanan Laxminarayan, director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy in New Delhi, told CNN

"This time, the mortality figures are probably serious underestimates, and what we're seeing on the ground is many more deaths, than what has been officially reported,” he added. 

Models from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluations estimate that India's death toll will continue climbing until mid-May, possibly reaching a daily death count of 13,000. 

The model also projected that the country is currently on the path of hitting 958,938 coronavirus-related deaths by July 31. In the worst-case scenario, the total death toll could hit more than 1 million in the same period. 

India’s health care system is currently being crippled as health officials record more than 300,000 new cases and nearly 3,000 deaths daily. Many hospitals have been forced to turn away patients due to a shortage of ambulances, hospital beds, oxygen supply and medicine, and there have been reports of many people dying while waiting to receive emergency care at hospitals.

In Delhi, crematoriums that have run out of space have been forced to build makeshift funeral pyres on spare patches of land or car parks. And some families have been forced to wait up to 20 hours for pyres. 

Authorities in the capital are also cutting down trees in city parks for the funeral pyres. Relatives of the deceased are being asked to help with collecting wood for the cremations and assisting in other rituals, according to the BBC

“People are just dying, dying and dying,” Jitender Singh Shanty, who is coordinating more than 100 cremations per a day at the site in the east of the city, told The Guardian. “If we get more bodies then we will cremate on the road. There is no more space here.”

Despite India's status as the "pharmacy of the world", the biggest producer of generic drugs has been unable to meet the demand for antiviral medication such as remdesivir Despite India's status as the "pharmacy of the world", the biggest producer of generic drugs has been unable to meet the demand for antiviral medication such as remdesivir Photo: AFP / Maude BRULARD