Passengers wear masks on the metro in New Delhi, India, March 2020
Javed Dar / Xinhua / Redux

This week, the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has affected nearly 200 countries, will begin to ravage one of the biggest, most vulnerable nations in the world. India, home to more than 1.3 billion people, is bracing for a surge in COVID-19 cases. The country already has the largest cohort of people in the world living with respiratory disease, thanks primarily to its chronic air pollution and high rates of tuberculosis. Such conditions make this densely populated country the perfect fodder for a virus that attacks the lungs of its victims.

India reported its first case of COVID-19 on January 30. Over the last few weeks, cases of the disease have grown exponentially, with 519 people infected and ten deaths as of March 24. According to the World Health Organization’s Situation Reports, the virus is spreading in India through local transmission and not simply through the arrival of people who contracted the virus abroad. But

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  • VIDYA KRISHNAN is a writer and journalist. Her forthcoming book, Phantom Plague: The Untold Story of How Tuberculosis Shaped Our History, will be published in January 2021.
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