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ICMR Serological Survey: 7% of India’s Population May Have Had Covid19

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Oct 1, 2020

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Image Credit: Reuters

According to a nationwide survey by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), over 60 million people in India may have contracted Covid19 — which is almost 10 times the country’s official figures, presently pegged at 6,312,584.

The national serological survey was conducted between mid-August to mid-September, and tested more than 29,000 people, across 700 villages and wards, for antibodies against the novel coronavirus. “The main conclusions from this sero-survey are that one in 15 individuals aged more than 10 have been exposed to [Covid19] by August,” Dr. Balram Bhargava, Director General of the ICMR, told the media. These numbers suggest that for every one infection officially reported, there are actually 26 to 32 people infected, who slip through the cracks.

The objective of the survey, according to the ICMR, was to estimate national prevalence and spread in hotspots. The likely infection rate for the population was found to be 7%, which roughly translates to a total of 63.78 million people. Residents of slums were found to have a sero-prevalence of 15.6% — almost double the 8.2% detected among residents of other urban areas. However, for rural areas, the sero-prevalence was found to be much lower, at only 4.4%.


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The present numbers have marked a 10-fold jump from the first sero-survey conducted by the ICMR in May, sampling 28,000 people across 400 districts. The results of this survey had indicated that only 0.73% of adults, about 6.4 million, had likely been exposed to the virus — suggesting for that every confirmed case, there were 82 to 130 infections that had gone completely undetected. However, the May numbers are ten times lower than the results of the present study. However, this is hardly surprising given that, according to BBC, the average number of daily cases have also shot up from 62 in April to more than 87,000 in September. As the lockdown is slowly being lifted, “…with increased mobility and reduced adherence to social distancing, mask wearing and personal hygiene, the virus will soar again,” Dr. Bhramar Mukherjee, a professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of Michigan, said, adding that she’s concerned that people aren’t “following preventive measures like wearing masks and keeping social distancing seriously.”

Experts believe that no matter how high the present figures may be, they also suggest that a significant number India’s population is yet to be exposed to the novel coronavirus — indicating that we’re far away from reaching herd immunity-levels of the infection. Also, scientists are recommending treating sero-surveys with caution, since they may not just be picking up exposure to the novel coronavirus that causes Covid19, but to other coronaviruses as well.

“Since a large proportion of the population is still susceptible, prevention fatigue has to be avoided… In light of the upcoming festivities, in light of the winter season and mass gathering, containment strategies must be implemented by the states and the use of masks cannot be underlined more than after this seroprevalence survey. That is very, very essential,” Dr. Bhargava warned, concerned about adequate precautions and social distancing, during the annual festivals of Dusshehra, Diwali, and Christmas.

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Written By Devrupa Rakshit

Devrupa Rakshit is an associate editor with The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, and a painter by shaukh. She has her own podcast called #DateNightsWithD on Spotify. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.

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