By early March, India had reason to be optimistic about the pandemic. COVID-19 infection rates were dropping, from 97,000 new cases per day in September to fewer than 15,000 in February, and experts openly proclaimed India had achieved "herd immunity." Health Minister Harsh Vardhan declared that month "we are in the end game" of the pandemic, after the world's largest vaccination drive began a month earlier.
But in dealing with an unpredictable, frequently mutating virus, optimism can be lethal. Four months later, India is just now emerging from the tidal wave of COVID-19 that began soon after Vardhan's remarks. Daily infections crossed over 400,000 in early May, the highest globally. As of July 5, India had confirmed about 30.6 million cases and 402,728 fatalities as the country first detected the new Delta variant, believed to be twice as infectious as previous variants.