Experts say unsanitary conditions could increase the risk of developing the infection, but opinions are divided.
India has reported 196,427 new coronavirus cases over the last 24 hours, its lowest daily rise in infections since April 14, while deaths from COVID-19 rose by 3,511.
The country’s overall caseload now stands at 26.95 million, while total fatalities are at 307,231, according to the health ministry’s data released on Tuesday.
India’s death toll is the third-highest reported in the world after the United States and Brazil, accounting for 8.6 percent of the nearly 3.47 million coronavirus fatalities globally, though the actual numbers are thought to be significantly higher.
“The exact numbers are not reliable and that is because India has never conducted enough tests to know the real number of infections,” Al Jazeera’s Elizabeth Puranam said, reporting from New Delhi.
“But what is undeniable is we are seeing the number of cases have been coming down for the last few weeks, despite testing remaining the same as it was two weeks ago,” she said, calling the “overall trend good”.
Despite the dip in daily infections, India’s fight against the coronavirus has been marred by slow vaccine deliveries, forcing many to miss their shots, and a rare “black fungus” infection affecting COVID-19 patients.
From the remote Himalayan villages in the north, through the vast humid central plains and to the sandy beaches in the south, the pandemic has swamped India’s underfunded healthcare system after spreading quickly across the country.
In the capital New Delhi, residents have died at home with no oxygen as hospitals exhausted limited supplies. In cities across India, patients have died in crowded hospital corridors. In villages, fever and breathlessness took people before they were even tested for coronavirus.
While the cities have seen signs of improvement in recent days, the virus is not finished with India by any means. It appears to have already taken a ghastly toll on the country’s vast rural areas, where a majority of the population lives and where healthcare is limited.
In recent weeks, hundreds of bodies have washed up on the banks of the Ganges River in Uttar Pradesh state. Many others have been found buried in shallow graves along its sandy banks. It has prompted concerns that they are the remains of COVID-19 victims.
India’s vaccination drive has also slowed recently, and many states say they do not have enough vaccines to administer.
The world’s largest vaccine-producing nation has fully vaccinated just over 41.6 million people, or only 3.8 percent of its nearly 1.35 billion people.
Al Jazeera’s Puranam said that with the decline in India’s daily COVID-19 infections, the “focus in the country has shifted to vaccinating people and the shortage of vaccines”.
On Monday, the federal government enabled walk-in registration at government-run vaccination centres for those aged between 18 to 44.
The first known COVID-19 death in India occurred on March 12, 2020, in southern Karnataka state. It took seven months to reach the first 100,000 dead. The official toll hit 200,000 deaths in late April.
The next 100,000 deaths were recorded in just 27 days after new infections tore through dense cities and rural areas alike and overwhelmed healthcare systems on the brink of collapse.
Average daily deaths and cases have slightly decreased in the past few weeks and the government on Sunday said it is conducting the highest number of COVID-19 tests, with more than 2.1 million samples tested in the previous 24 hours.