India reopens further as virus cases hit 1.5 million

People wear face masks and move through a street in the rain in Prayagraj, India, Wednesday, July 29, 2020. India is the third hardest-hit country by the pandemic in the world after the United States and Brazil. (AP)
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Updated 29 July 2020

India reopens further as virus cases hit 1.5 million

  • The country of 1.3 billion people is the world’s third-most infected nation

NEW DELHI: India will reopen gyms and end a nighttime curfew from August, but cinemas, bars and schools will remain closed in the vast South Asian nation as the number of coronavirus cases passed 1.5 million and deaths neared 35,000 on Wednesday.
The country of 1.3 billion people — the world’s third-most infected nation — has gradually eased its virus restrictions imposed since late March to boost the flagging economy.
But the latest reopenings from August 5 are limited to gyms and yoga teaching facilities, as well as an end to the curfew, currently from 10 p.m. to 5 am.
Case numbers in India are soaring and more states are reimposing shutdowns to stem the spread of the virus.
Independence Day celebrations on August 15 will go ahead, but with “social distancing and by following other health protocols” such as mask-wearing, the home affairs ministry said.
Metro train services, cinemas, swimming pools, entertainment parks, theaters, bars, auditoriums and assembly halls will remain closed for now, it added.
Schools and other educational institutions will also remain shut through the end of August, at least.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said this week that India was in a “better position that other countries,” and winning international praise.
The health ministry website — which no longer includes total infections as the government puts more emphasis on recoveries — on Wednesday reported almost 50,000 new infections and 768 more deaths.
India, home to some of the world’s most crowded cities and where health-care spending per capita is among the world’s lowest, passed one million cases only 12 days ago.
But many experts have said the country is not testing enough people, and that many coronavirus-linked deaths are not being recorded as such.
A study released Tuesday that tested for coronavirus antibodies reported some 57 percent of people in Mumbai’s teeming slums have had the infection — far more than official figures suggest.
The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research’s Ullas S. Kolthur, who was involved in carrying out the survey, said he was surprised by the results.
“At least in the slums, we think it is largely because social distancing wouldn’t work simply because of the population density,” Kolthur told AFP.
Last week, a similar study indicated that almost a quarter of people in the capital New Delhi have contracted the virus — almost 40 times the official total.
There are, however, doubts about the accuracy of such tests, since other coronaviruses — not just this one — may also produce antibodies that could give a false positive result.
The Mumbai survey also covered a relatively small sample of around 7,000 people.
India now has the third-highest number of cases in the world behind the United States and Brazil, although the official number of deaths in the South Asian nation is far lower.
As a proportion of its population, India also lags behind, with only 1,110 cases per million people, compared to 13,148 for the United States, according to an AFP tally.

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