Welcome to Foreign Policy’s South Asia Brief, the weekly newsletter that keeps you up to date on a region that is home to one-fourth of humanity. Today: India sets a worldwide record for the most coronavirus cases in a single day, Pakistanis express outrage over rape, Bangladesh faces another onion crisis, and a Dalit perspective on the U.S. bestseller Caste.
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India Sets Coronavirus Record
India recorded 97,894 new cases of the coronavirus on Thursday. Since the pandemic began, no other country has confirmed as many infections in a single day. As shown below, India has now recorded more than 5.1 million total cases—a number surpassed only by the United States. But India may not be No. 2 for long. It has recorded 1 million cases in the last 11 days, on track to overtake the United States sometime in October.
Low death rate? According to official records, 1,132 Indians died from COVID-19 on Thursday. While that number seems high—and has risen in recent weeks—India has a low death rate in comparison to other countries. For every 1 million people, only 61 Indians have died of the coronavirus, compared with a global average of 121.7—and averages of 131,609, and 631 for Russia, the United States, and Brazil, respectively.
While India’s government cites the relatively low death rate as a success story, the reality is that the data is too murky to pass judgment. Even under normal circumstances, only 22 percent of deaths in India are medically certified. In other words, only 1 in 5 deaths is accurately recorded. A growing body of anecdotal evidence shows that many deaths linked to COVID-19 are not appearing on the official lists of those killed by the virus.
India may have good reason for a lower death rate than many Western countries. After all, it has a median age of 28, and data suggests that younger people have a better chance of surviving the virus. But there is danger in celebrating a perceived low death rate, especially if it encourages Indians to lower their guards and not take the pandemic seriously.
Reopening underway. Despite the rapidly rising numbers, India has reopened gyms, most workplaces, and markets. Bars can once again serve alcohol. Given that India has administered only 60 million tests so far, the majority of its population may yet contract the virus. But New Delhi’s approach seems to prioritize protecting livelihoods—a choice perhaps influenced by the release earlier this month of quarterly data showing a 24 percent contraction of India’s economy.
Regional picture. Other South Asian countries seem to be faring better than India. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan—countries whose median ages are 10, two, and four years lower than that of India, respectively—have dramatically slowed the spread of the coronavirus and recorded a low number of new deaths.
But these countries are also testing…