NEW DELHI/BENGALURU (Reuters) – India reported a record daily increase of novel coronavirus cases on Friday and became the world’s fourth worst-hit country, raising the prospect of the return of a lockdown just days after it was lifted.
Anxious to revive the economy after a nearly 70-day lockdown, the government this week opened most public transport, offices and malls, even though health officials said the country was weeks away from flattening the curve of infections.
On Friday, the health ministry said the number of cases had increased by 10,956 from the previous day, with new infections rife in the cities of Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai.
Dr V.K.Paul, head of a government task force tackling the outbreak, said there was no quick end in sight.
“Our population is still susceptible, this virus is present, we have contained it, but this fight will go on for months,” Paul told a news conference.
The new cases took India’s total number of infections to 297,535, and it replaced Britain as the fourth worst-affected country, according to Reuters tallies.
India’s death toll reached 8,498, which officials said was small in relation to its 1.3 billion population. Britain has had more than 41,000 deaths.
The head of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, one of the country’s biggest mosques, ordered a halt to congregations until the end of the month.
“What is the point of visiting mosques at a time when the virus is spreading so fast,” said the cleric, Syed Ahmed Bukhari said, suggesting other mosques do the same.
Praveen Khandelwal, general secretary of the Confederation of All India Traders, said shops may have to close again in the capital, where the number of cases is projected to grow to half a million by the end of July from 32,810 now.
The Supreme Court sought a report from Delhi authorities saying patients faced a “horrendous situation” in packed hospitals.
The city needs 80,000 hospital beds by the end of next month. It now has 11,000, the government has said.
(Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani, Sachin Ravikumar, Sunny Kataria and Suchitra Mohanty, Editing by; Editing by Shri Navaratnam, Robert Birsel)