Mr Vardhan's unbridled optimism was based on a sharp drop in reported infections. Since a peak of more than 93,000 cases per day on average in mid-September, infections had steadily declined. By mid-February, India was counting an average of 11,000 cases a day. The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths from the disease had slid to below 100.
The euphoria at beating the virus had been building since late last year. Politicians, policy makers and parts of the media believed that India was truly out of the woods. In December, central bank officials announced that India was "bending the Covid infection curve". There was evidence, they said, in poetic terms, that the economy was "breaking out amidst winter's lengthening shadows towards a place in sunlight". Mr Modi was called a "vaccine guru".