World

India passes eight million infections, braces for post-Deepavali surge

NEW DELHI: India passed eight million coronavirus cases yesterday, with the world's second worst-hit country bracing for a new wave of the pandemic.

So far, the country of 1.3 billion people has recorded more than 120,000 deaths, according to the latest government figures.

Only the US has seen more infections, with 9.1 million confirmed cases and more than 228,000 deaths.

While India has one of the world's lowest death rates, with the government highlighting the slowing number of new infections in recent weeks, authorities are preparing for a new surge after Deepavali, the country's most important religious festival, on Nov 14.

Textiles Minister Smriti Irani became the latest of several Cabinet members to test positive.

"All states need to be careful during the coming festive season. This caution must be exercised for the next three months at least," Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said in a statement.

A lockdown imposed in March has gradually been eased as the government seeks to reboot the economy after the loss of millions of jobs nationwide. But experts say this has helped spread the disease.

New Delhi recorded 5,000 new cases on Wednesday, its highest daily figure since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Officials have warned that the capital could see more than 10,000 cases a day in the next wave.

Financial capital Mumbai, India's worst-hit city, is adding about 2,000 cases a day.

Dr Suresh Kumar Rathi, an epidemiologist from health charity Public Health Foundation of India, told AFP if India took "proper precautions" now it could beat a new wave of infections but indiscipline would lead to a "disastrous" unravelling of recent gains.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also warned the public in recent speeches that they were being "careless" in giving up social distancing and other precautions.

"The virus is still out there. It thrives on our complacency," Mr Modi said in a interview with the Economic Times yesterday.

While businesses and theatres have slowly started to reopen, schools and colleges remain shut in most cities and international flights are severely limited. - AFP

WORLD