India’s total coronavirus cases passed 5 million on Wednesday, health ministry data showed, as the pandemic extended its grip on the vast country at an ever faster rate.

With its latest million cases recorded in just 11 days, a world record, India now has 5.02 million infections. Only the United States has more, with 6.59 million.

India has for some time been recording the world’s biggest daily rises in cases, and on Wednesday, the rise was just over 90,000 with a record 1,290 deaths.

According to the Times of India, the country took 167 days to reach one million cases, but the next million came in just 21 days, faster than the US and Brazil. Just 29 days later, India posted 4 million infections, becoming only the third country to reach that mark.

India is now testing about a million people a day, but many experts say this is not enough, and that the true number of infections may be far higher. This has been borne out in several studies in recent weeks measuring antibodies against the virus among the cramped populations of megacities New Delhi and Mumbai.

The India Council for Medical Research, the country’s lead pandemic agency, said last week that its survey had suggested that already in May, 6.5 million people were infected.

The same goes for deaths – 82,066 as of Wednesday, far fewer than the US toll of 195,000 – but many deaths are not properly recorded by authorities even in normal times.

India has one the world’s most poorly funded healthcare systems and the nation of 1.3 billion people is home to some of the most densely populated cities and towns.

The sharp rise in cases is despite prime minister Narendra Modi’s government imposing in late March one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, leaving tens of millions of people in the informal labour market jobless almost overnight.

The lockdown saw complete travel bans, shutting down of businesses and factories, and the flight of millions of poor migrant workers from big cities to their villages that experts say caused the virus to spread from urban centres to small towns.

The lockdown has been steadily eased even as infections soar, with schools set to open for some classes on Monday – along with tourist hotspot the Taj Mahal.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump, the president of the world’s worst-affected country in terms of cases and deaths, delivered a town hall in which he said that Covid-19 would go away without a vaccine.

This would happen because of “herd mentality”, he said. It is unclear whether he meant heard immunity, because he repeated the phrase several times.

“It would go away without the vaccine, George,” he said speaking to ABC journalist George Stephanopoulos. “With time it goes away. And you’ll develop like a herd mentality. It’s going to be herd developed, and that’s going to happen. That will all happen.”

Other key recent developments include:

In the US, at least seven people have died in connection to an outbreak in Maine following a wedding reception held over the summer that violated state virus guidelines, public health authorities said.

New Zealand reported a second consecutive day of no new cases of Covid-19 spread in the community on Wednesday.

Around 872 million school children – or half of the world’s student population – are still unable to attend schools in person because of the pandemic, said Henrietta Fore, executive director of Unicef.

The world is still at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, a World Health Organization special envoy on Covid-19 has said. Dr David Nabarro described the situation as “grotesque” during a sitting of the UK’s foreign affairs committee.

With Agence France-Presse

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