New Delhi

India cautiously starts to open up as Covid-19 case records decline

Less than 5% of the country has been fully vaccinated.

BUSINESSES IN TWO of India’s largest cities are reopening as part of a phased easing of lockdown measures in several states.

The number of new coronavirus infections in the country is now on a steady decline.

India’s capital allowed businesses and shops to reopen with limited hours, and the Delhi Metro, which serves New Delhi and adjoining areas, also resumed operations at 50% capacity.

Last week, authorities in the capital allowed some manufacturing and construction activity to resume.

“Now the corona situation is under control. The economy must be brought back on track,” New Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal told reporters.

The strict lockdown measures had been in place since April at the start of a devastating surge in infections that lasted well into May and overwhelmed healthcare facilities in many parts of the country.

Some health experts fear the restrictions are being eased too soon and there are concerns that the virus is still spreading unchecked through India’s villages where testing and medical care are limited.

Kejriwal warned that any new surge in infections could be more severe and said the administration will build new oxygen production facilities and expand the capacity of intensive care units.

In the coastal state of Maharashtra, home to the financial hub of Mumbai, and one of the worst hit states, shopping centres, cinemas, restaurants and offices reopened in districts where the positivity rate has fallen below 5%.

The state’s huge rail network will, however, remain closed for the public.

Other Indian cities also started to gradually lift the lockdown rules.

After registering a peak of more than 400,000 new cases a day in May, new infections and deaths have declined and the government hopes the reopening could resuscitate an economy that grew at only a 1.6% annual rate in the January-March quarter.

Today, new infections fell to their lowest point in two months.

The 100,636 cases added in the past 24 hours pushed India’s total to nearly 29 million, second only behind the United States.

The Health Ministry said 2,427 more people died in the past 24 hours, driving the overall toll to 349,186.

However, both figures are believed to be vast undercounts.

Meanwhile, pressure is mounting on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to speed up vaccinations.

India has administered just over 222 million jabs so far and less than 5% of the country has been fully vaccinated.

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