India crossed 31,000 coronavirus infections on Wednesday, second only to China in Asia, a steady rise that would make it difficult to lift a nearly six-week lockdown that ends this weekend, health officials and some government leaders said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has allowed some farm and industrial activity to resume in less-affected rural areas after the shutdown of the economy left millions without work and short of food and shelter.
But with about 1,500 new cases each day on an average over the past week, the government is facing calls not to ease further and instead keep the world’s biggest shutdown in force beyond May 3, even though the economic distress is deepening.
“India is still on the ascending limb of the epidemic curve and so to ease the restrictions will mean the cases will multiply uncontrollably,” said Dr S.K. Sarin, who leads a government group tackling the outbreak in the capital, New Delhi, one of the hotspots.
The number of people infected with the coronavirus stood at 31,332, the health ministry said. So far, 1,007 people have died, a small number compared with the United States and parts of Western Europe where tens of thousands have died.
But India’s healthcare systems are much more limited than those in developed countries and the fear is that a surge in cases of the kind seen in the United States and Italy could easily overwhelm public hospitals.
“We are recommending that the lockdown be extended after May 3. No mode of public transport be allowed between states,” said Pramod Sawant, chief minister of Goa, that draws hundreds of thousands of tourists to its beaches from within India and overseas.