India reported a record 9,887 new coronavirus cases in one day on Saturday and overtook Italy to become the country with the world’s sixth-biggest outbreak, two days before the relaxing of a lockdown with the reopening of malls, restaurants and places of worship.
With its total number of cases rising to more than 236,000, India now has fewer infections than only the United States, Brazil, Russia, Britain and Spain, according to a Reuters tally.
However, India’s toll of deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, is 6,642, small compared with those other countries.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, anxious to jump-start an economy crippled by the epidemic and put millions of people back to work, is easing its lockdown of the 1.3 billion population imposed in March, which the government says helped avoid an exponential rise in cases.
Restrictions will be loosened from Monday but some experts are worried it is too soon.
Giridhar R Babu, epidemiologist at the Public Health Foundation of India, in particular questioned the re-opening of religious places.
“We can survive and sustain the gains without … opening up religious places for sometime,” Babu said on Twitter.
Concerts, sporting events and political rallies are still banned.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said late on Friday that India’s lockdown had helped it dampen down transmission of the disease, but there was a risk the cases could rise again.
“As India and other large countries open up and people begin to move there is always a risk of the disease bouncing back up,” Dr Mike Ryan, head of WHO’s emergencies programme, told a news conference in Geneva.
People visiting places of worship will be asked to wash their hands and feet, and there will be no distribution of food offerings, sprinkling of holy water or touching of idols and holy books.