India is at a “critical juncture” in its coronavirus fight, Narendra Modi, the Indian Prime Minister has warned, after he announced 800 million of India’s poorest citizens would continue to receive food aid until November.
The total number of cases in India is expected to pass the grim milestone of 600,000 today – the fourth largest outbreak globally – with a 28 per cent increase in new infections over the past seven days.
Densely-populated megacities are driving the recent surge with New Delhi recording over 85,000 cases but infections are now also growing in India’s rural hinterlands as internal migrants return home.
On Tuesday, Mr Modi cautioned Indians to be vigilant in his sixth televised address since the pandemic began: “People are becoming careless, we need to call out the violators.
“Ever since [easing of restrictions] started in the country, negligence in personal and social behaviour has been increasing.”
Despite the number of new infections exceeding 15,000 for the eight consecutive day, further lockdown relaxations were implemented on Wednesday as part of the second of a three-phase plan to kickstart India’s ailing economy.
Restrictions on interstate travel have been lifted and more flights and trains will run, boosting the movement of workers and goods.
A nationwide curfew will continue but has been shortened and will not only be enforced between 10pm and 5am.
Schools, colleges and universities will remain closed until July 31 while gyms, swimming pools, spas and bars will stay shut until further notice. During a draconian lockdown between March 25 and June 1, Indians were only permitted to leave their homes to purchase groceries and medicines, during which at least 122 million people lost their jobs.
Unprecedented unemployment and rising food prices – caused by disruptions to supply chains – left many Indians struggling to survive in a country where more than 20 per cent of people still live on less than £1.61 a day.
In March, Mr Modi announced the world’s largest food security scheme for 800 million Indians, after receiving criticism for leaving the poor to fend for themselves and rely on NGOs for aid.
While some of those eligible claim they have not received aid yet due to bureaucratic problems, the scheme has now been extended until November at a cost of £9.6 billion.
There is some cause for optimism as India’s death rate remains lower than many other nations with just 17,400 fatalities. While its youthful population is a factor, public health experts say that only a proportion of Covid-19 deaths are being registered by the authorities.
India's chronically underfunded healthcare system is also facing a shortage of beds and doctors and nurses, as it continues to lurch towards a predicted November peak.
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