India reports record daily jump of 69,652 in Covid-19 cases, making it worst-hit country in Asia

India is the worst-hit country in Asia and third only behind the United States and Brazil in terms of number of cases. PHOTO: AFP

BENGALURU/NEW DELHI (REUTERS) - India reported a record daily jump of 69,652 coronavirus infections on Thursday (Aug 20), taking the total number of cases to 2.84 million, data from the federal health ministry showed.

It reported 977 new deaths, taking the total to 53,866.

India is the worst-hit country in Asia and third only behind the United States and Brazil in terms of the number of cases.

Meanwhile, India is staring at a protracted slowdown as coronavirus cases reach its countryside, with signs of recovery in the rural economy hailed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi "at best a mitigating factor", government officials and analysts said.

The world's No. 5 economy will report first-quarter GDP data on Aug 31 and, according to a Reuters poll, it is likely to have contracted 20 per cent over April-June. It is forecast to shrink 5.1 per cent in the year to March 2021, the weakest since 1979.

Nearly half of India's 1.38 billion population rely on agriculture to survive, with the sector accounting for 15 per cent of its economic output.

Mr Modi has been citing higher fertiliser demand and sowing of monsoon crops, both key signs of rural activity, to show there are "green shoots" in the economy.

But four government officials said the uptick in activity may not be as large as believed, given a spike in virus cases in rural areas that were initially isolated from the pandemic.

"The economic situation has in fact worsened since April and May, and we are likely moving towards a longer economic slowdown than earlier expected," a finance ministry official said.

The official pointed to sluggish consumer demand and a slowdown in rural lending as causes for concern.

"The situation on the economy front is very serious and the government's hands are tied on the fiscal front," a government adviser with direct knowledge of India's budget plans said.

Both declined to be named as they were not authorised to speak to the media. A ministry spokesman declined to comment.

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