THE covid-19 situation in India is terrible and is likely to get worse. The country has set one new record after another for the most daily coronavirus cases reported in any country. Just as the world was hoping the worst of the pandemic was over, we are seeing its biggest outbreak.

Why is this happening now? The short answer, as with so many key questions about the pandemic, is that no one knows for sure.

On paper, India’s outbreak isn’t that exceptional. It is reporting around 200 daily cases and two deaths per million people, which is similar to the current situations in the US, Germany and Canada. In January, the UK was reporting nearly 900 cases and 18 deaths per million people.

However, while the official figures in every country underestimate the true number of infections, the gap is likely to be greater in India. The number of daily cases could be closer to 10 million than the reported 350,000, while media reports suggest the death toll is at least 10 times higher than the government data.

What’s more, India has just two critical care beds per 100,000 people, compared with 34 in the US. Its healthcare system has been overwhelmed.

“Politicians failed to grasp what happens when exponential growth goes unchecked”

The big mystery is actually why India avoided a second wave for so long. Just two months ago it seemed to have the virus under control.

There is no shortage of proposed explanations for the current surge: dangerous new variants; a relaxation of restrictions; people taking less care; mass political rallies and religious festivals; and fading immunity from the first wave. A mismanaged vaccination programme also means that less than 9 per cent of the population has received at least one dose. All these factors may be contributing. Many were avoidable.

The alarm should have been sounded when case numbers began climbing in February and March. Instead, just as in the UK, politicians seem to have failed to grasp what happens when exponential growth goes unchecked.

As the country looks for help from outside, the crisis should be a stark warning to us all of just how quickly a seemingly good situation can change.