Amy Kazmin in New Delhi
India’s confirmed coronavirus infection count has exceeded 100,000, even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is now easing the conditions of the country’s eight-week lockdown in a bid to revive the battered economy.
Of the 100,328 Indians known to be infected, 3,157 have died and nearly 39,200 have recovered, while India’s overstretched health care system is wrestling with more than 57,900 active cases.
Most coronavirus cases have been concentrated in a handful of big cities, including the financial capital, Mumbai — the city hardest hit by the virus — Ahmedabad and New Delhi, the capital.
But concern is growing about the rising number of cases reported in small towns and rural areas, in some cases carried by migrant workers, now returning to their villages across India after weeks stranded in cities and industrial areas without work or wages.
In the small town of Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh, 90 people have been confirmed as infected with the virus in the past 24 hours. Other rural districts of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha, where many of the migrant workers who labour in other parts of India come from, have reported a surge in cases in recent days.
Amitabh Kant, the chief executive of the Niti Aayog, the government’s public policy think-tank, has downplayed India’s coronavirus caseload, which has risen steadily despite a draconian lockdown imposed on March 24.
“It’s not total no of +v cases but the mortality and recovery rates which are critical. We are faring well on both,” Mr Kant tweeted on Tuesday morning.
However, public health experts believe the death toll of the virus could be higher than reported, given that many people die at home, and family members do not report illness or fatalities to authorities for fear that they will be ordered into unpleasant institutional quarantine facilities.
India is also facing a new challenge this week, as a super cyclone, Amphan — the most powerful storm to brew in the Bay of Bengal for decades — is expected to slam into the country’s east coast on Wednesday.
The last time a storm of this magnitude hit India was in 1999, when a super cyclone killed 9,000 people.