When the coronavirus pandemic broke out last year, people predicted that developing nations would bear the brunt of the viral outbreak. One expert suggested last March that the number of infected people in India could even exceed 300 million. However, as of February, India has only registered 10 million infections. Though it has the second-highest number of infection cases globally, the per capita rate is surprisingly low.
On a per million basis, India only has 7,894 infections. In a country with 1.3 billion people, it would be at the 120th spot viewed by this metric. In contrast, developed countries like the UK, France, and Spain have 50,000 cases per million. The United States registers at 85,000 infections per million.
India’s massive drop in infection cases
What baffles experts is that India has registered a massive 90 percent drop in daily infections between Sept. 2020 and Feb. 2021. No one has a clear answer as to why. At the peak of the pandemic, India registered 100,000 cases per day. Now, daily coronavirus cases are only 11,000.
According to Jayaprakash Muliyil, an epidemiologist and the chairman of the National Institute of Epidemiology’s scientific advisory committee, tropical regions have seen fewer cases of mortalities when compared to colder areas like Europe and the U.S.
Since India receives an abundance of sun people receive high levels of vitamin D that could act as protection against the virus.
Demographics could also be helping India, which has a high proportion of young people. Many Indians also do not work beyond 60, reducing the risk of older generations contracting the virus.
“Nearly 40 percent of India’s population is below 18, and the fatality rate in this age group is 0.001-0.01 percent… In Western countries, life expectancy is greater and people live longer with diseases like diabetes, cancer, or heart conditions. As a result, there are more people living with co-morbidities, thus increases the chances of fatality,” Muliyil told QZ.
India’s deaths per million stand at 112. It’s tiny compared to the U.S. figures of 1,521, Brazil’s 1,141, and the UK’s 1,753. The deaths per million of France, Spain, Italy exceed 1,000 as well.
Sayli Udas-Mankikar, an urban policy expert at the Observer Research Foundation in Mumbai, said India is already dealing with deadly diseases like cholera, typhoid, dengue fever, malaria, and hepatitis. Millions of people do not have access to proper sanitation, clean water, and nutritious food.
Sayli said that higher immunity developed due to exposure to other deadly diseases might have turned into a blessing and protected Indians from the virus. However, Dr. Gagandeep Kang, an infectious diseases researcher at the Christian Medical College in Vellore, warns that such theories are only good for generating hypotheses and should not be taken at face value.
Many other theories have floated around to explain the fall in infections. Some suggest that the country might have developed herd immunity, that the people may have pre-existing protection from the virus, or that the success is due to the public’s strict compliance with social distancing rules. Public health experts from other nations are keenly studying the data from India. They hope to uncover the mystery behind the drop so that such measures can be replicated to lower infections worldwide.