India could be next virus hotspot with an ‘avalanche’ of cases, says experts

India could become the next global hotspot for virus cases, with experts warning containment measures that proved successful elsewhere in Asia may not work in the world’s second-most populous country.

The South Asian nation, which has so far reported 125 infections and three deaths, is trying to contain the virus by closing its borders, testing incoming travelers and contact tracing from those who tested positive.

But some experts in the nation of 1.3 billion people say that won’t be enough to contain the spread. Other measures like widespread testing and social distancing may be infeasible in cities with a high population density and rickety health infrastructure.

While growth in total numbers has been slow until now, “the number will be 10 times higher” by April 15, said Dr. T. Jacob John, the former head of the Indian Council for Medical Research’s Centre for Advanced Research in Virology, a government-funded institution.

“They are not understanding that this is an avalanche,” said John, who was also chairman of the Indian Government Expert Advisory Group on Polio Eradication and chief of the National HIV/AIDS Reference Centre at the Christian Medical College in the southern city of Vellore. “As every week passes, the avalanche is growing bigger and bigger.”

So far India has been relatively unscathed from the virus compared with other countries in Asia. Countries from Italy to Malaysia have started locking down large parts of the country, following China’s move to reduce the pace of new infections by isolating Hubei province, where the outbreak first took hold.