NEW DELHI: India’s capital New Delhi and financial hub Mumbai began a gradual easing of restrictions on Monday (Jun 7) as coronavirus infections in the country fell to a two-month low.
India on Monday reported 100,636 new infections – after several days of 400,000-plus cases in May – and 2,427 deaths.
Hospitals in the megacities, which have a combined population of about 40 million, were overwhelmed by a deadly COVID-19 wave in April and May, with severe shortages of oxygen and other critical medicines.
The huge spike saw India report record-breaking numbers of cases and deaths to become the second worst-hit nation after the United States, with just under 29 million infections.
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Authorities in Delhi and Mumbai, as well as other cities and states, imposed restrictions on movement and activities to combat the surge.
“We have to stay safe from corona infection and also bring the economy back on track,” Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted on Monday as some shops and malls reopened.
He ordered half of the capital’s shops to open on odd and even numbered days of the month respectively, in a bid to limit crowds, but allowed offices and the Delhi underground rail network to run at 50 per cent of capacity.
But some curbs were retained, such as the ban on dining in at restaurants and the use of theatres and gyms in a city still slowly recovering from a surge in the months of April and May that overwhelmed hospitals.
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The northern city was reporting an average of 25,000 daily cases during its peak. It fell to 381 infections on Sunday, officials said.
A healthcare worker collects a swab sample from a court employee during a rapid antigen testing campaign for COVID-19 at a court in Mumbai, India, Mar 25, 2021. (Photo: REUTERS/Niharika Kulkarni)
Maharashtra, India’s richest state of which Mumbai is the capital, eased restrictions based on infection rates and hospital bed occupancy.
Authorities allowed businesses to run until late afternoon, staffed with half their employees, and opened gyms, salons and spas.
In Mumbai – where the caseload soared to 11,163 in early April – there were 794 new infections on Sunday.
Malls were allowed to reopen in the city with restrictions, but were reopened fully in cities with lower infection rates such as Nagpur and Aurangabad.
“This is a step in the right direction,” said Rajendra Kalkar of Phoenix Mills, which manages three shopping centres in Maharashtra.
“Businesses at our malls are coming back slowly. This is a very welcome step for thousands of mall staff and retail employees.”
A man getting a haircut is reflected on a mirror at a barber shop in Mumbai, India, Jun 7, 2021.(Photo: AP/Rafiq Maqbool)
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The Hotel and Restaurant Association of Western India estimated that more than 2 million jobs were lost during the Maharashtra lockdown.
“We are very happy to open our doors again today,” the restaurant manager of the Mumbai branch of popular eatery Social, who gave his name as Malay, told AFP.
The reopening efforts come as authorities struggle to vaccinate the population of nearly 1.4 billion, in a strategy officials say is the only way to limit any third wave of infections.
But tight supplies have meant that fewer than 5 per cent of 950 million adult Indians have received the mandatory two vaccine doses.
The pressure to resume some economic activity has grown as millions depend on daily wages to pay for food and rent.
“I have opened my shop after 40 days,” a tea vendor, Monu Yadav, told Reuters partner ANI in the northern city of Varanasi, adding that only some of his customers have returned.
Passengers walk outside the New Delhi railway station in New Delhi, India, Jun 7, 2021. (Photo: AP/Ishant Chauhan)
Last week, the central bank cut its forecast for economic growth to 9.5 per cent from 10.5 per cent for the fiscal year 2021/2022.
The second wave has “impaired the nascent recovery that was underway”, but “not snuffed it out”, said Shaktikanta Das, the governor of the Reserve Bank of India.
Experts warn that while the crisis has eased in Delhi, Mumbai and other major cities, the disease is still spreading in rural areas and some southern states.
The death toll – which usually lags infection figures by several weeks – was still at elevated levels, they added.
The health ministry said total deaths were just under 347,000 so far, although experts warn the actual toll could be much higher and there have been claims of under-counting.
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