Businesses in two of India’s largest cities have begun reopening as part of a phased easing of lockdown measures now that the number of new coronavirus infections in the country is on a steady decline.
- Strict lockdown measures have been in place since April
- Some health experts fear the restrictions are being eased too soon
- The Indian government will begin vaccinating all adults for free from later this month
India’s capital allowed businesses and shops to reopen with limited hours on Monday and the Delhi Metro, which serves New Delhi and adjoining areas, also resumed operations at 50 per cent capacity.
Last week, authorities in the capital allowed some manufacturing and construction activity to resume.
“Now the corona situation is under control. The economy must be brought back on track,” New Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, told reporters on Sunday.
The strict lockdown measures had been in place since April at the start of a devastating surge in infections that lasted well into May and overwhelmed healthcare facilities in many parts of the country.
Some health experts fear the restrictions are being eased too soon and there are concerns that the virus is still spreading unchecked through India’s villages where testing and medical care are limited.
Mr Kejriwal warned that any new surge in infections could be more severe and said the administration would build new oxygen-production facilities and expand the capacity of intensive-care units.
In the coastal state of Maharashtra — home to the financial hub of Mumbai, and one of the worse hit states — malls, movie theatres, restaurants and offices reopened in districts where the positivity rate has fallen below 5 per cent.
The state’s huge rail network will, however, remain closed for the public.
Other Indian cities also started to gradually lift the lockdown rules.
After registering a peak of more than 400,000 new cases a day in May, new infections and deaths have declined and the government hopes the reopening could resuscitate an economy that grew at only a 1.6 per cent annual rate in the January-March quarter.
On Monday, new infections fell to their lowest point in two months.
The 100,636 cases added in the previous 24 hours pushed India’s total to nearly 29 million, second only behind the United States.
The Health Ministry said 2,427 more people died in the past 24 hours, driving the overall toll to 349,186. Both figures are believed to be vast undercounts.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the Indian government would provide COVID-19 vaccines for free to all adults from later this month.
In a televised address Mr Modi said the federal government would take over the task of vaccination from state governments.
Under the earlier policy, the federal government gave free vaccines to the elderly and frontline workers, and left state governments and private hospitals to administer doses for a fee to people in the 18-45 age group.
India has administered just over 222 million shots so far and less than 5 per cent of the country has been fully vaccinated.