Covid-19 in India

India cautiously eases lockdown in five states as Covid cases decline

A semi-deserted market during a lockdown imposed in Delhi
A semi-deserted market during a lockdown imposed in Delhi Money SHARMA AFP/File

Several Indian states were easing restrictions on Monday as new Covid-19 cases fell by a fourth at 115,000 infections daily bringing a small respite for overworked hospitals. Experts called for a speedy re-start of the economy to restore millions of jobs lost in the lockdown.

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Five of the India’s largest states and cities such as Delhi and Mumbai have begun a gradual exit from lockdown from Monday.

“I do believe we need to open up but very cautiously,” said Srinath Reddy, President of the state-backed Public Health Foundation of India.

Some 40 percent of India’s 347,000 Covid deaths occurred during the second wave which saw new infections rise beyond 400,000 a day and crematoriums run non-stop through last month.

A national union of physicians said Sunday more than 600 on-duty doctors also died in the explosive surge which hit Maharashtra and Delhi the hardest.

Foundation president Reddy said the grim memories were likely to have a sobering effect on politicians who run states, where coronavirus cases were on a decline for over a week now.

“Mindset of the people this time around as compared to the first wave or certainly during the period of January to March when there was considerable degree of laxity and the feeling the danger is past that may not prevail this time because the scale of the devastation has been very high,” he said.

“Almost everybody has lost somebody close to him or her,” Reddy added.

Dehi relaxes lockdown rules

Delhi markets and shopping malls can open on alternate days and city metro will operate at 50 percent of capacity from Monday, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said as he promised to ramp up the city hospitals and boost oxygen stocks.

“We are getting prepared keeping in mind 37,000 cases per day as the base-line," Kejriwal said, referring to a projected third virus wave.

The city of 20 million was locked down on 19 April but last week Kejriwal allowed manufacturing and construction activities.

"It is important to bring the economy back on track now that the Covid-19 situation improving,” he added.

Mumbai too gets a break

Maharashtra state which includes Mumbai announced a five-level exit plan depending on the rate of infection rates and hospital bed occupancy.

“Stores, shopping malls, gymnasiums and cinemas will be allowed to reopen from Monday in level-1 districts,” a state government spokesman said.

Randeep Guleria, who heads India’s largest public hospital in Delhi, also prescribed caution as the strategy for exiting lockdowns.

“I think for the next six to eight weeks we have to be very slow in unlocking till we are able to vaccinate more and more people,” Guleria added.

India has given 230 million vaccine doses since January after launching a drive to inoculate 1.4 billion citizens.

In his first national address since 20 April, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday announced free vaccines for all adults from 21 June in a bid to get the country's vaccination drive back on track.

Four other large states move with caution

Densely-populated states such as Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh also announced plans over the weekend to ease lockdowns from Monday, officials said.

Gujarat said private and government offices can operate at full capacity from Monday and eased the restrictions in 36 cities across the western Indian state.

Experts urged the government to especially rescue India’s hospitality sector, which was set to grow to 401 billion euros by 2029 but Covid restrictions derailed the industry.

“Your entire hospitality industry which is second largest economic generator in India and the largest employer of skilled and unskilled labor is in deep trouble,” said Suhel Seth, a market consultancy expert.

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