Video report by ITV News correspondent John Irvine
India’s coronavirus crisis is at critical level. In the past few days, it has crossed two million cases, with one million of them occurring in less than a month.
Sunday was the first time it reported more than 1,000 deaths from Covid-19 in a single day - with more than 60,000 new cases.
This puts India at third globally for total cases but number one for new cases.
With a continued trend of over 50,000 daily Covid-19 cases for past several days, India has become the largest single contributor of virus cases in the world.
India’s trajectory of daily cases of Covid-19 is now ahead of that of the United States, making it the country with the highest number of daily infections.
With 399,263 new Covid-19 cases against 384,089 cases in the USA last week, India for the first time eclipsed the United States in the average weekly trajectory.
The average daily new cases over the past week indicates India may be beginning to close the gap.
Even as India has ramped up its daily Covid-19 testing up to 700,000. Daily deaths have almost doubled over the past month to around 1,000.
Previously the main hotspots have been the teeming megacities of New Delhi and Mumbai, home to some of the world's biggest slums.
Doctor explains why people in India aren't getting tested for coronavirus
Now smaller cities and rural areas - where 70 per cent of Indians live - have begun to see case numbers rising sharply.
There are two key factors putting both the poorest and those in well to do cities at more risk:
Covid impacting the poor
For poor people, like Mohmmad Ramzan, working as rag pickers at Delhi’s Bhalswa landfill site, the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown has compounded a long list of problems.
Mohmmad, 25, resides cheek by jowl with his wife in a cramped single room urban slum in unsanitary alleyways next to the landfill site.
'Our work here is compelled by hunger'
Sanitation workers and rag pickers like Mohammad are at risk from handling unmarked medical waste emerging from homes with Covid-19 patients.
India produces over 600 tonnes of biomedical waste every day in its health care facilities.
Some of these are disposed properly in common biomedical waste treatment facilities (CBWTFs) but due to lack of strict enforcement of rules Covid wastelands appear at the landfill sites every day.
Mohammad arrives early every morning at the landfill site to pick up stuff from the trash which he can sell to earn his meal.
“What can we think about Corona, we have to worry about our stomach, even though we know Covid waste material comes here but we can’t stop working here. We do get scared but have no choice but to work here,” says Mohammad.
He is worried about handling the trash with his bare hands after he found biomedical waste like used face masks, face shields and other hazardous biomedical waste, personal protective equipment (PPE) and gloves - all brought everyday alongside the municipal waste thrown into the dump.
“Ragpickers are at frontline as they are highly exposed to Covid because they are dealing with all the waste material, they should be given alternative employment during this pandemic time and not left out,” says Chandra Bhushan, a noted Delhi environmentalist.
Many workers like Mohmmad are forced to work at the landfill site despite knowing about highly contagious nature of Covid.
The coronavirus outbreak has caused fear and anxiety among Indians - leading to prejudices against people and there have been many cases where dead bodies of Covid-19 infected patients have remained unclaimed.
Stigmatising of Covid-19 patients and their families are forcing people to go for testing when they experience symptoms - resulting in heightened breathlessness - and this could mean increased morbidity and mortality.
In many parts of India, the social stigma is more traumatic than the disease and this has driven at least six people to their death across southern Indian state of Telangana since the beginning of pandemic.
Hyderabad - one of the top richer city and IT capital of India - is worst victims of this stigma.
'Society forced us to leave the home where we were living.'
Mohmmad Salman, a resident of old city in Hyderabad, lost his mother to Covid and caught it himself.
After his in-home isolation, he was forced to vacate his rented house and took shelter at his uncle’s place.
He told ITV News: “We were in home for 28 days and no one came to us for anything and we were left abandoned.
"Condition was very bad for us and we were treated badly and harassed by our landlord [sic]"
The social stigma associated with Covid-19 has made recovery difficult for patients in home isolation.
With nearly 70 to 80 percent of the infected people in home isolation across Telangana, many are being harassed by neighbors, who want them to be shifted to a hospital or a government quarantine facility.
This is why the superintendent of Hyderabad’s oldest public hospital, Osmania Dr. B. Nagender, told us this social stigma is endangering more lives by few coming forward to be tested.
And of those who are coming forward, he added: “Many of the suspects are being admitted and in the attendance period, they may be carriers and they are roaming around the hospital and therefore, this is a potentially infected hospital."
This is why he added: “So many of the hospital frontline warriors... around 200 to 300 people have suffered with Covid … including me.”
'There isn't even space for this many graves'
The ultimate sign of stigma is as Hyderabad buries it dead.
People struggle to find the means to lay their loved ones to rest and at a Muslim cemetery on the outskirts of the city is receiving 60% of the dead from Covid as locals do not want these burials in their neighbourhoods.