India’s death toll from the coronavirus hit 50,000 on Monday, with a quarter of the country’s total deaths reported in the past 17 days, according to health ministry data released on Monday.
The world’s second-most populous nation last week overtook Britain with the world’s fourth-highest number of deaths, behind the United States, Brazil and Mexico.
Many experts, however, say the real numbers may be far higher due to low levels of testing and because deaths are often not properly recorded in India’s chronically under-funded health system.
India has recorded 2.6 million infections, with nearly half of the cases registered this month alone, health ministry data shows.
Despite the rising death toll, the ministry tweeted on Sunday that India’s virus mortality rate was “one of the lowest globally” at below 2 percent.
“Successful implementation of testing aggressively, tracking comprehensively and treating efficiently through a plethora of measures have contributed to the existing high level of recoveries,” the ministry said in a statement.
Experts say India needs to ramp up testing further to get the virus under control as it spreads to rural and farflung areas where healthcare systems are particularly fragile or not easily accessible.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said trials and tests on three potential vaccine candidates were being carried out in India and that his government was preparing to produce huge numbers of doses if any are found to be viable.
“Once we get a green signal from our scientists, we will launch massive production of the vaccine. We have made all the preparations,” Modi said in an Independence Day speech on Saturday.
“We have drawn an outline to ramp up the production of the vaccines and to make it available to each and every person in the shortest possible time.”
Modi’s government imposed one of the world’s strictest lockdowns in March.
It dealt a heavy blow to Asia’s third-biggest economy and brought misery to the country’s poor, with many millions of migrant workers left jobless almost overnight.
Vast numbers trudged back penniless to their home villages from cities including New Delhi, Mumbai and Ahmedabad, many of them on foot. Some died on the way.
The lockdown has since been steadily eased, but many sectors complain that they are severely short of workers.
State and local governments across the country have meanwhile, reimposed lockdown measures as the virus has spread to smaller cities and rural areas, where approximately 70 percent of Indians live.
But, anecdotal evidence suggests that in many rural regions, measures to stop the spread such as masks and distancing are widely ignored.
In addition, a lack of public awareness has contributed to those with the virus being ostracised, making people more reluctant to get tested.