June 16. 2021. 8:35

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Several Indian cities and districts ease lockdown restrictions as cases decline

A woman receiving a vaccine jab in a car in Kolkata, eastern India. Photograph: EPA/Piyal Adhikary


Several Indian cities and rural districts that have been coronavirus hotspots over the past three months, including the federal capital New Delhi and the country’s financial hub Mumbai, are easing lockdown restrictions as infections continue to decline.

India on Wednesday reported 92,596 new Covid-19 cases, its lowest tally in nine weeks, pushing the country’s overall virus numbers to over 29 million – the world’s second highest tally after the US.

India has an official death toll of just over 350,000, although experts say the true figures for infections and deaths are far higher due to undercounting in rural areas in particular.

However, with the virus caseload steadily lessening local authorities in many areas have partially resumed public transport and permitted businesses to bring back 50 per cent of their staff . Shops have reopened in Delhi and Mumbai, but are permitted to function on alternate days only.

Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal warned city residents to continue taking precautions against the virus. “Wear a mask, keep social distance and keep washing hands: there should be no laxity at all,” he tweeted on Wednesday, adding that people had to counter coronavirus, while bringing the economy back on track.

The country’s second virus wave, which erupted in late March, reached a peak of some 400,000 infections and 4,000 fatalities daily – based on official figures alone – for several consecutive weeks.

The upsurge in infections overwhelmed major cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai, as well as small towns and villages, and triggered a severe shortage of hospital beds, oxygen, medicines as well as doctors and support medical staff.

Crematoriums filled beyond capacity, forcing people to either wait hours to cremate their relatives or leading to some immolating the dead in public parks or floating them down the Ganges river.

Criticism

After weeks of criticism of a bungled vaccine policy in which demand far outstripped supply, prime minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government agreed to provide free Covid-19 inoculation to India’s adult population of about one billion from June 21st.

After an extended silence, Mr Modi in a nationwide televised address on Monday reversed a chaotic policy under which some 29 Indian states were individually required to obtain their own vaccines and inoculate their populations.

This had led to acute shortages as many manufacturers refused to sell their vaccine to the states, leading to the closure of thousands of inoculation centres and leaving millions unvaccinated despite having signed up for jabs.

Mr Modi declared that the federal government would henceforth provide 75 per cent of all vaccine needed nationally free of cost, and would daily administer 10 million doses, up from just under three million presently.

India has so far vaccinated about 230 million people, or less than 4 per cent of its adult population.