NEW DELHI • India has overtaken Russia with the world's third-highest number of coronavirus cases, more than 700,000, as the outbreak shows no sign of slowing.
Health Ministry data yesterday showed more than 23,000 new cases reported in 24 hours, down slightly from Sunday's record increase of almost 25,000. There have been almost 20,000 deaths in India since the first case was detected in the country in January.
It is now the world's third-worst affected country, behind only the United States and Brazil.
The tally is not expected to peak for several more weeks and experts predict that India will pass the one million figure this month.
The country has seen eight times the number of cases as China, which has a similar-sized population and is where the virus was first reported late last year.
Officials said they have reversed a decision to reopen the Taj Mahal yesterday following a spate of new cases in the city of Agra.
India's major cities have been the worst hit by the pandemic.
New Delhi and Mumbai have about 100,000 cases each, with 3,000 dead in the capital and nearly 5,000 in Mumbai. New Delhi has opened a 10,000-bed temporary virus hospital, and other cities are tightening movement curbs to head off a new surge in cases.
Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala state, imposed a new lockdown from yesterday, with public transport shut and only pharmacies allowed to open. The clampdown came after hundreds of new cases were reported across the state, which had been praised for its action to curtail the pandemic.
India has failed to suppress new cases despite implementing one of the world's most expansive lockdowns at the end of March, when there were fewer than 1,000 cases.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was forced to ease the curbs last month to rescue an economy that is hurtling towards its first contraction in more than four decades.
India has become one of the worst-hit nations as the epicentre of the pandemic continues to shift.
The outbreak emerged in China, spread to Europe, and now developing countries with weaker healthcare systems such as Brazil and India are reeling. Since late March, the US has had the most cases globally and is still adding infections at a record daily pace.
"India is the second-most populous country in the world so it's not surprising," said infectious diseases specialist Abdul Ghafur.
"European countries have small populations so they can lock down, stop the disease and then open up.
"In India, even under lockdown, it continues to spread."
The epidemic has left a nation of 1.3 billion under pressure, with chronically understaffed and underfunded healthcare infrastructure. It ranked 154 out of 195 countries in global healthcare access and quality even before Covid-19 struck.
After overwhelming New Delhi and Mumbai, the virus is now moving through the vast hinterland.
Millions of migrant workers who lost their city-based jobs during the lockdown have now returned to their villages. This has created new routes of transmission for the virus to rural areas where medical facilities are even more rickety.
While the confirmed cases are skyrocketing, the rise in death toll has not been as dramatic, though there are concerns that the deaths are being under-reported.
Dr Ghafur said India must try to identify sick people early and build up hospital capacity. "I'm worried about the fatality rate," he added. REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE