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17.07.2020 Asia

India becomes third country to top 1 million coronavirus cases

By Vikram Roy in New Delhi - RFI
REUTERS - Francis Mascarenhas
LISTEN JUL 17, 2020
REUTERS - Francis Mascarenhas

India has reported a fresh surge of 34,956 new Covid-19 infections in the past 24 hours, taking it past one million cases nationwide. It becomes the third country after the United State and Brazil to surpass the stark landmark.

The national Covid tally stood at 1,003,832 with a total of 25,602 coronavirus-related deaths, India's federal health ministry said on Friday.

India now counts around 30,000 new infections each day.

The health ministry said a total of 635,756 people had also recovered.

“The current caseload remains manageable because of proactive measures of containment including house-to-house surveys...contact tracing, aggressive testing and timely diagnosis of cases,” it said.

"Rising recovery rate, from 52 percent in mid-June to more than 63 percent in mid-July, is aiding continuous decline in Covid-19 active cases," the ministry added in a tweet.

Herd immunity

Health experts and virologists such as Shahid Jameel said they believed “herd immunity” was a likely reason for the exceptionally good recovery rate.

“Even in the high numbers there may be a silver lining that if more and more have been infected and they are not showing up in hospitals then maybe we are slowly moving towards herd immunity,” Jameel told media.

But several states and larger cities seemed unwilling to run the risk, with authorities reimposing a lockdown to try and hold back the surge, which could overrun their faltering healthcare services.

India's software capital Bangalore, a city of 13 million, enforced a week-long lockdown while the seaside tourism state of Goa ordered a “people's curfew” until 10 August.

“Too many people were stepping out to meet people at parties," Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant complained.

Sawant blamed Goa's free-wheeling culture on an absence of “awareness and sensitivity" to now familiar social distancing norms.

India's second-most populous state, Bihar, also ordered a strict lockdown until 31 July, citing an "alarming surge in Covid-19 positive cases in the last three weeks".

Smaller towns also imposed restrictions amid fears that the infection may have spread deeper into the countryside and that the vast majority of cases was still not known.

“It (India) is becoming the global hotspot,” Harvard Global Health Institute director Ashish Jha told the India Today publication.

“And we are still early in this pandemic with many, many months to go before there is a vaccine,” Jha added.

India ordered a nationwide lockdown on a four-hour notice on 25 March but eased the confinement rules in May as hundreds of thousands lost their jobs and the nation's economy stalled.

International flights resume

But despite the bleak forecast and surging infections, India has resumed international flights.

Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said India has signed separate agreements with France and the United States for the resumption of services from Friday.

He said similar arrangements with Britain and Germany were being worked out.

"Now we have many demands for air bubbles, but we need to be careful. We should permit that many only that we can handle," the minister told reporters.

An 'air bubble' involves mutually-decided health restrictions to be followed by airlines during international flights.

National carrier Air India will also fly to France and the United States under these so-called “bubbles,” Puri added.

India suspended international flights in March but two months later it permitted domestic air services to resume.

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