India extended its coronavirus lockdown in high-risk zones but embarked on a phased plan to ‘unlock’ and reopen the country on Monday despite a surge in cases which has seen it emerge as the nation seventh worst hit by the virus.
India reported 8,392 new cases of coronavirus over the past 24 hours, among its biggest one-day jumps, taking the total number of infections to 190,535, data released by the Health Ministry showed, while 5,394 deaths linked with Covid-19 have been confirmed.
The figures showed that India has climbed to the seventh from the ninth spot in the list of 10 nations worst hit by the pandemic, with more cases than France, the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University showed.
The United States, which is the worst affected country, recorded 598 deaths on Sunday, bringing the death toll to 104,383 since the pandemic began.
Although India's fatality rates have been relatively low, experts have warned that the country had yet to see the peak of the pandemic as new infections were on the rise.
The surge in cases comes as the government on the weekend extended a two-month lockdown till June 30 in containment zones or areas with high numbers of infections, while releasing a plan to ease curbs significantly with an economic focus.
Malls, hotels, restaurants and places of worship can open on June 8 except in the containment zones, while authorities will ensure physical distancing rules and staggered business hours.
Restrictions have been removed on movement of people and goods between states. Night curfews are set to continue, but the timings will be shortened, from 9 pm to 5 am (1530-2330 GMT).
Cinemas, schools and international flights will reopen after an assessment over the next few weeks.
The Indian Railways began a graded restoration of services and was running 200 trains on Monday carrying over 145,000 passengers.
Many large states like Uttar Pradesh also resumed bus services within the state.
State governments came out with varied ‘Unlock 1’ guidelines on Monday, with New Delhi, that has reported among the highest number of infections in India, sealing its borders for a week.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the move was to ensure that enough hospital beds were kept reserved for Delhi residents and not occupied by patients from other states.
At the same time, Delhi and several states opened barber shops and salons.
India entered its lockdown on March 25 but has relaxed restrictions progressively since May, resuming road and air travel, opening up businesses and workplaces and restarting construction and industrial activities.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a radio address at the weekend noted that a large part of the economy had opened and train and flight services were being operated partially, even as more lockdown relaxations were on the anvil.
He however cautioned people against showing any laxity in the fight against the coronavirus and asked them to be extra alert and careful, while admitting that the poor and workers had been hardest hit by the Covid-19 crisis and lockdown measures.
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