As India reopens, one state outnumbers China in coronavirus cases

Maharashtra crosses a grim milestone as Indian government reopens more public spaces after a 10-week lockdown.

As India begins to reopen more public spaces after a 10-week lockdown, its western state of Maharashtra has crossed a grim milestone by having more coronavirus cases than China.

India’s health ministry on Monday said Maharashtra – the country’s most industrialised state – now has a total of 85,975 coronavirus cases, including more than 3,000 deaths.

As of Monday, China had 84,191 cases of the virus with 4,638 deaths so far, according to a tally by the Johns Hopkins University.

Maharashtra’s capital and India’s financial hub, Mumbai, home to more than 18 million people, is the worst-hit Indian city with 48,549 cases – a fifth of India’s infections – and 1,636 deaths.

The state of Maharashtra crossed the grim milestone as India reported its highest single-day spike in coronavirus cases, with 9983 new infections taking the tally to 256,611.

Only the United States, Brazil, Russia and the United Kingdom have more cases than India.

More than 200 people died because of the COVID-19 disease in the last 24 hours in the world’s second most populous nation.

Pressure on hospitals

India’s total death toll at 7,135 is much lower than reported in other badly hit countries, but the epidemic is only expected to peak locally in July, according to health experts.

Al Jazeera’s Elizabeth Puranam said New Delhi and Mumbai, the two cities with “the best medical infrastructure” in India, are struggling in dealing with the pandemic.

“The Delhi chief minister on Sunday said people from outside Delhi will not be allowed to use the hospitals in the city. But medical associations say hospitals can’t turn emergency patients away,” she said.

Reporting from New Delhi, Puranam also said India was not conducting enough coronavirus tests.

“Every other day we see the highest single-day rise in cases and deaths but still India is not testing enough while deaths could also be under-reported,” she said.

“Only 22 percent of India’s deaths are registered by the government.”

India reopens more public spaces

Despite the record spike in infections, malls, mosques and temples reopened in several cities across India on Monday.

The government has risked lifting some restrictions in a bid to ease the devastating blow to the economy dealt by the coronavirus.

In the capital, New Delhi, shopping centres, restaurants, temples and mosques were allowed to reopen for the first time since March 25.

Delhi reopening
Visitors wear face masks at the Ambience Mall in capital New Delhi [Prakash Singh/AFP]

“A lot of guidelines are in place, like temperature checks, sanitation tunnels which people walk through, limited numbers and markings all over the floor to ensure social distancing,” Puranam reported.

The response was tentative, however, and only a trickle of people returned to some places of worship.

The 400-year-old Jama Masjid mosque – one of the biggest in India – planned to allow the faithful in just three times a day instead of the usual five.

Mumbai was more cautious. Roadside shops were allowed to reopen but malls, restaurants and hair salons remained shuttered. A few offices opened.

In Mumbai’s sprawling suburbs, there were long queues at bus stops as the commuter trains that are its lifeline have not yet opened.

Major hit to economy

The Indian government is braced for a major hit to the economy, with millions of labourers now jobless.

Rating agencies have said the economy could contract by more than 5 percent this year, after average growth of about 7 percent over the past decade.

Despite restrictions being eased last month, India’s manufacturing sector is struggling to restart because of an exodus of migrant workers prompted by the virus lockdown.

Big cities – once an attractive destination for workers from poor, rural regions – have been hit by reverse migration as millions of labourers have fled to their village homes.

“Business owners say they are very apprehensive about the reopening as the number of cases continues to rise,” said Puranam.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies