Nearly a dozen Indian states have imposed a partial lockdown in high-risk areas after spikes in coronavirus cases, with the country’s infections topping 900,000 just three days after crossing the 800,000 mark.
India joins a number of countries and cities across the globe in reimposing localised lockdowns and other restrictions in the face of new outbreaks of the disease that has infected more than 13 million worldwide.
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In all, India has more than 936,000 cases of the novel coronavirus, with nearly 30,000 new infections reported on Wednesday, according to data from the federal health ministry, the third-highest total in the world behind Brazil and the United States.
India’s health ministry stressed on Tuesday that the number of people who had recovered from the virus was higher than the number of confirmed active cases. Of approximately 900,000 registered infections, some two-thirds had recovered and been discharged from hospitals.
But many health experts say the health ministry figures underplay the severity of the situation.
Jayaprakash Muliyil, an epidemiologist at Christian Medical College in southern India, warned that the country’s actual death toll from the coronavirus could be much higher due to the absence of a robust mechanism to report deaths in rural areas. “We don’t have the infrastructure,” he told Associated Press.
More than 24,000 people have died in India due to the disease that has killed more than half a million people globally since it first originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan last December.
Experts have pointed out that India will see multiple peaks in different parts of the country.
Bengaluru new hotspot
After imposing one of the world’s strictest lockdowns in late March, the country of 1.3 billion people had been steadily easing rules to lessen the huge economic impact – particularly on vast numbers of poor Indians who lost their jobs.
The southern city of Bengaluru, home to more than 13 million people, emerged as a new hotspot and started new a seven-day lockdown at 8pm (14:30 GMT) on Tuesday.
Firms in the city’s lifeblood IT sector – handling the back-office operations of dozens of global corporations – can continue operating, but with only half the staff allowed on premises at any one time.
Transport is banned except in emergencies, and only shops selling essential items are allowed to open.
“I do not want to take chances… I am stocking up for two weeks,” Mangala, a housewife, told Reuters as she joined a long queue to buy provisions before the deadline.
India’s financial hub, Mumbai, and the capital New Delhi remain the worst-affected by the virus with more than 400,000 cases registered in the two megalopolises.
More towns announce curbs
Bihar, home to about 125 million people and one of India’s poorest states, will go into lockdown on Thursday for 15 days, the local government announced following a record surge in cases.
The western city of Pune and other states, including Uttar Pradesh, home to 200 million people, badly hit Tamil Nadu and Assam, have also introduced new restrictions.
Cities as far-flung as Shillong in the remote northeast to Srinagar, the main city in Indian-administered Kashmir, also imposed new curbs on movement to contain the virus.
Bengaluru had only about 1,000 coronavirus cases in mid-June and was thought to have fared better than other parts of India in terms of testing and contact tracing.
But infections had risen to nearly 20,000 by Monday, something health experts blamed on the lifting of restrictions in June when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, worried about the economy, ended a nationwide lockdown that had thrown millions of people out of work.
The new lockdowns threaten to derail government efforts to revive a stuttering economy.
India’s minister for small and medium businesses, Nitin Gadkari, said last week that experts were predicting a loss of $133.3 billion in the next year.
Vaccine trials fast-tracked
Meanwhile, Balram Bhargava, director general of the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR), said clinical trials for vaccines developed in India were under way and had been fast-tracked.
Prime Minister Modi has urged top officials to improve infection testing and tracing, especially in states with high infection rates. Last month, Modi urged Indians to maintain physical distancing norms. “It is a request to the entire country that we should not be careless and should protect ourselves and others against coronavirus.”
Jitendra Singh, a junior union minister in charge of the prime minister’s office, quarantined himself on Tuesday after he visited Kashmir.
Meanwhile, a health official in charge of anti-pandemic measures told Anadolu Agency on Wednesday that up to 48 inmates in a jail in Kashmir – most of them political prisoners – have tested positive for the coronavirus.
“Yesterday, four tested positive. Today’s results showed 44 others positive,” he said on Wednesday.
Thousands of people were arrested after India stripped the Muslim-majority region’s autonomy last August.