The outbreak in India was significantly delayed after prime minister Narendra Modi ordered one of the world’s strictest nationwide lockdowns. But cases have soared since the measures were lifted to save the country’s floundering economy, and a number of states and cities are now reimposing their own local lockdowns to try and bring the situation back under control.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in India has crossed one million, the country’s health ministry said early on Friday, after states reported large daily increases.
Government data showed another 34,956 cases were added in the last 24 hours, as well as a new record daily death toll of 687.
India is now the third-worst affected country in the world in terms of coronavirus cases, having overtaken Russia 10 days ago. Some forecasts suggest that with its huge population and fragile health system, India could end up with the world’s worst outbreak by the end of 2021.
The country’s total tally ticked above one million to 1,003,832 overnight as states declared their tallies for Thursday – but the landmark was conspicuously absent from the Ministry of Health’s updates on social media.
The ministry instead highlighted the number of active Covid-19 cases in the country, which it said was falling as a percentage of total cases at just over 331,000. It called this the country’s “actual Covid caseload today”.
And in another Twitter post on Friday morning, officials observed that on a per capita basis, India’s 658 cases per million people was 16 times lower than the US, and ranks the country 106th in the world.
Mr Modi and his administration have repeatedly touted their success in locking down the country early, even as surges in major cities like Delhi and Mumbai have threatened to overwhelm hospitals.
The government was strongly criticised for a lack of testing in the early stages of the outbreak, but has since loosened its strict testing criteria and is now second in the world on number of people checked for Covid-19, behind only the US.
Experts warn that while the outbreaks in some major cities appear to have peaked, other states are yet to see the worst of the outbreak. Dr Anant Bhan, a global health researcher, told the Associated Press that India was likely to see “a series of peaks,” as the infection spread in rural areas.
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Bihar, an eastern state with a population of 128 million people that is one of India’s poorest and least developed, announced a new two-week lockdown to contain the virus on Thursday.
A number of states, including most populous Uttar Pradesh and the wealthy coastal tourist destination Goa, have ordered weekend curfews in a bid to reduce social mixing while keeping up economic activity.
The city of Chennai is only just emerging from a second strict lockdown, imposed after a spike in cases in Tamil Nadu saw it become the worst-affected southern state.
And the city of Bangalore, the tech hub of India, ordered another week-long local lockdown from Tuesday after cases continued to jump.