India's richest state has half of new, active coronavirus cases

HEAA boy walks past a graffiti amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on a street in Navi Mumbai
·2 min read

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's richest state of Maharashtra accounts for more than half of both new and total active coronavirus infections, health ministry data showed on Monday, although a team of experts said the state's current wave might be "less virulent".

Experts say India's relatively low hospitalisation and fatality rates suggest the pandemic is approaching its next phase of largely manageable local outbreaks, such as those being seen in the western industrialised state.

India's tally of 11.23 million infections is the world's highest after the United States, with the state accounting for 11,141 of the 18,599 new cases reported in the past 24 hours, and 52% of the 188,747 people still infected.

As a proportion of its population, however, India's virus deaths rank among the lowest in the world, rising by 97 on Monday to 157,853.

The health ministry said it had sent expert teams to a quarter of Indian states and federal territories showing a rise in cases so as to understand the challenges and issues they face.

One team said the spurt in Maharashtra, which has a population of more than 114 million, could be due to pandemic fatigue, village elections, weddings, the reopening of schools and crowded public transport.

"The virus is spreading to hitherto unaffected areas and most cases are asymptomatic," it said in a report on Saturday.

"People are not...strictly following quarantine or getting testing done. The sense is that the current wave is less virulent."

The report did not say how the current surge was determined to be less infectious, but the Indian government earlier ruled out new variants as the cause of the rise.

Hundreds of thousands travel to work each day in Maharashtra's many cities home to industries such as garments, chemicals, cars and metal factories.

The federal government has asked states to prioritise vaccination in the areas worst affected. Since its drive began in mid-January, India has inoculated 17.3 million people, a fifth of them receiving the two doses required.

It aims to cover 300 million of a population of 1.35 billion by August.

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps)

(Reporting by Krishna N. Das in New Delhi and Philip George in Bengaluru; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)