India’s death toll from coronavirus rose past 100,000 on Saturday, only the third country in the world to reach that bleak milestone, after the U.S. and Brazil, and its epidemic shows no sign of abating.
Total deaths rose to 100,842, the health ministry said, while the tally of infections climbed to 6.47 million after a daily increase in cases of 79,476.
India now has the highest rate of daily increase in infections in the world.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, faced with a collapsing economy after imposing a tough lockdown to try to stem the spread of the virus in late March, is pushing ahead with a full opening of the country.
Cinemas were allowed to re-open at half capacity this week and authorities can decide to re-open schools from the middle of this month.
Heading into winter and the holiday season, including the Hindu festival of Diwali next month, the world’s second-most populous country could see a jump in cases, health experts said.
“We have seen some recent slowdown of the virus curve but this may be a local peak, there may be another coming,” said Bhramar Mukherjee, a professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of Michigan.
She said data showed a little over 7 percent of the population of 1.3 billion had been exposed to the virus, meaning India was still far from any sort of herd immunity.
The number of cases could rise to 12.2 million by the end of the year but the rate of spread would depend on how effective measures such as social distancing were, she said.
“So it will continue as a slow-burning coil, that is my hope, and we have to play the long game to stop it from being a wildfire.”
The United States, Brazil, and India together account for nearly 45 percent of all COVID-19 deaths globally.
Death rates in India, however, have been significantly lower than in those other two countries, raising questions about the accuracy of its data.
India has, on average, less than one death from the disease for every 10,000 people while the U.S. and Brazil have seen six deaths per 10,000.