India fast becoming Covid-19 epicentre

India is fast becoming the world's new Covid-19 epicentre, setting a record for the biggest single-day rise in cases as experts predict that it will soon pass Brazil - and ultimately the United States - as the country with the worst outbreak globally.

As many as 78,761 new cases were added on Sunday, the most any country has reported in one day, pushing India past Mexico (65,816) for the third-highest number of deaths worldwide.

The country reported 78,357 new cases on Wednesday, Central government health data showed, taking the total infections to 3.76 million - 66,333 people have died.

At the current trajectory, India's outbreak will eclipse Brazil's (4m) in about a week and the US (6.13m) in about two months, reported Bloomberg.

Unlike the US and Brazil, India's case growth is still accelerating seven months after the reporting of its first coronavirus case on Jan 30.

The pathogen has only just penetrated the vast rural hinterland where the bulk of its 1.3 billion population lives, after racing through its dense megacities.

Mr Kumar Sanjay Krishna, the chief secretary of Assam, one of the worst-hit states, attributed the increasing cases to more testing, the opening of the economy and complacency.

"People are not following precautionary steps and are violating the Covid protocols," he tweeted. "From Monday onwards there shall be visible strict action taken against those who violate the norms of social distancing or are found not wearing a face mask."

As the world's second most populous country and one with a relatively poor public health system, it's inevitable that India's outbreak becomes the world's biggest, said Mr Naman Shah, an adjunct faculty member at the country's National Institute of Epidemiology.

"It would not be surprising, regardless of what India does," said Mr Shah, a member of the Central government's Covid-19 task force.

The Central government said on Wednesday it would allow metro services to resume nationwide, despite the number of novel coronavirus infections reaching almost 3.8 million.

A dozen metro services, including in the capital New Delhi, would be allowed to resume from Sept 7, India's Urban Affairs Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a nationwide lockdown in March when the country was reporting fewer than 100 daily Covid-19 cases, winning praise from some experts for early action but warnings from others the restrictions had been imposed too soon.

India's economy shrank by nearly a quarter in April-June, data showed on Monday, much more than forecast and placing pressure on policymakers to kick-start growth, despite the high number of new cases.

More than two million masked students filed into exam centres across India on Tuesday to take tests for admission to medical and engineering schools, with physical distancing norms, hand sanitisation stations and temperature checks in place.

The Central government had declined to defer the tests - already postponed twice this year - despite growing pressure from some students and opposition parties who feared rising infections as well as difficulty travelling to exam centres due to coronavirus-linked curbs on transport.

"If (the exam) is delayed, then our whole year will be wasted... we don't have any option," a student appearing for the tests in Kolkata told the India Today news channel. "So whatever maximum precautions we can take, which we are all following, I think it's fine," she said.

The Central government also announced that up to 100 people will be allowed to congregate for events including religious and political functions later this month.

India's second-most industrialised state Tamil Nadu said it would partially resume public transport services, allow shopping malls and places of worship to operate, abolish full shutdowns on Sundays and increase flights.

The chief minister of Goa, a popular tourist destination that has relaxed quarantine rules to attract visitors, said on Wednesday the he had tested positive for Covid-19.

"Those who have come in my close contact are advised to take the necessary precautions," Mr Pramod Sawant, a member of Mr Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, tweeted.

Reuters, AFP

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