High antibody rate in Delhi means India could become coronavirus 'base camp' once borders reopen
Published: Jan 26, 2021 08:03 PM

People wait in line to take COVID-19 test at a health centre in Hyderabad, India, on July 29, 2020. India's COVID-19 tally crossed the 1.5 million-mark on Wednesday, reaching 1,531,669, announced the federal health ministry. (Str/Xinhua)

While Indian media hailed the high rate of antibodies against novel coronavirus in the New Delhi population, seeing it as a step closer to achieving "herd immunity," Chinese experts expressed shock at the epidemic situation in the country, and warned that India could become a global "base camp" for the virus when borders reopen as the country is turning a blind eye to detecting and treating coronavirus patients.

The latest positive rate from a serological survey in Delhi was about 50 percent, indicating that at least one in two people in the capital of India had been infected with the virus, according to a report by India Today on Monday. 

The data demonstrated that at least half of the city's 20 million population had been infected with the novel coronavirus, but official data released by its health authorities only recorded about 630,000 confirmed cases in the city, and just over 10 million total infections in the entire country.

Behind the high rate of positive antibodies is the suffering of millions of Indians who have not been detected due to insufficient domestic anti-epidemic policies. If India continues its laissez-faire approach, more Indians will get infected, a Beijing-based immunologist, who requested anonymity, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

"When borders between countries reopen, these untested but infected could make the country a base camp for novel coronavirus and spread the virus to the rest of the world, "the expert warned.

Echoing the anonymous expert, Tao Lina, a Shanghai-based expert on vaccines and immunology, also told the Global Times on Tuesday that the investigation results show the real infection situation in India and how bad the epidemic prevention and control measures are in the country. 

"It possibly means the percentage of asymptomatic patients is extremely high in the city, and India has failed to detect and treat those infected people," Tao said. 

Moreover, such antibodies could be temporary and may not guarantee that India itself is safe from future epidemics, due to its slow speed in rolling out its vaccination program and threats posed by mutated viral variants which have stronger virulence, experts said.

Firstly, its ambitious aims to inoculate at least 300 million people out of its 1.3 billion population by July may not be realized as scheduled, due to low willingness to receive vaccines, and also as the efficacy of the vaccines remains in question, Chinese experts said.

Tao also warned that new virus variants detected in the UK and South Africa are a common enemy for all, and the protective barrier that the Indians generated could be weak against those new variants.

In contract with New Delhi, the positive rate from a serological survey in Wuhan, the first city in China to see an outbreak, was only 4.43 percent, and in Hubei Province excluding Wuhan it was 0.44 percent, according to a national epidemiological survey of COVID-19 serum by China's CDC. 

The survey shows China has successfully fought the virus in the battlefield of Wuhan, and effectively prevented it from spreading on a much larger scale, as the overall population showed a low infection rate.

Unlike India, which is seeking herd immunity by allowing millions of its own people to become infected, China is building a protective barrier among populations via vaccines on the premise of ensuring the health of the Chinese people, Tao said, slamming India's pursuit of herd immunity as not something that "a modern country should ever consider." 

The anonymous immunologist suggested carrying out a close assessment over the different antibody rate between New Delhi and Wuhan, as different testing kits or methods could end up giving different outcomes. 

He also mentioned the possibility that the high antibody rate among the Delhi population may be generated by other types of coronavirus, as studies showed in southern India there are silent infected people who have long-term stool excretion of coronavirus. 

The antibody generated by other types of coronavirus could also have had cross-reactions with the novel coronavirus, thus this population is likely to have some natural antibodies against coronavirus, the expert said.

Global Times