India logged fewer than 7,600 coronavirus cases on Tuesday – its lowest in 543 days – amid claims by experts the country has acquired herd immunity.
The Health Ministry said the country recorded 7,579 infection cases and 236 deaths, taking its total to 30 million cases and 466,147 deaths since the first case was detected in early 2020.
In recent months, India has witnessed a sharp decline in the number of infections, with a daily average of 10,000 cases from 415,000 at the peak of the devastating second wave of the pandemic in April and May.
There were fears the country could witness another wave in October or November, but experts say the widespread infection among its population during a second wave followed by a vaccination push have helped the nation to move out of “epidemic danger”.
“We can say the epidemic is over in India because of the herd immunity that the population has acquired after getting naturally infected,” Dr Jayaprakash Muliyil, India’s leading epidemiologist, told The National.
He said: “A large number of the population was already infected by the virus and those who survived got the antibodies.
"Most new cases recorded are the elderly, those who refuse to get vaccines. The vaccination has helped and people, particularly with comorbidities who did not already have a disease, should get their dose."
A nationwide survey of seroprevalence – blood samples that detect Covid-19 antibodies to keep a track of infection rates – in July revealed that 67.6 per cent of the country’s population had antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, with cities such as Delhi gaining mass resistance to the virus at 97 per cent.
The southern Kerala state, which tops the fresh infection cases in the country with 3,698 on Tuesday, had immunity rates of 70 per cent by October.
India ramped up its vaccination programme after the infection ripped through the country at the beginning of March, killing more than 250,000 and infecting more than 20 million.
More than 1.7 billion people have received vaccinations since January.
The campaign was briefly derailed at the peak of the pandemic because of shortages in manufacturing, but it picked up pace in August.
The government last month also launched a door-to-door vaccination campaign to target large chunks of the population that had either skipped their second dose or were yet to take their first.
India has also resumed the export of vaccines under its Vaccine Maitri programme and other global programmes after meeting its domestic demands.
It has allowed the Serum Institute of India, which manufactures the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine, to export five million doses to Covax, a UN global body that aims to ensure global equitable access of Covid-19 vaccines.
The first batch of vaccines will be delivered to Nepal, Tajikistan and Mozambique.