India's total infections near 3.8m mark

India's novel coronavirus infections rose to almost 3.8 million on Wednesday, as states continued to relax rules on movement despite the surge in cases.
India's total cases lag only the United States and Brazil.
India's total cases lag only the United States and Brazil.PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI • India's coronavirus infections rose to almost 3.8 million yesterday, as its states continued to relax rules on movement despite the surge in cases.

The country reported 78,357 new cases in the past 24 hours, according to federal health data, taking total infections to 3,769,523.

Some 66,333 people have died.

India's total cases lag only the United States and Brazil, which it will overtake in days based on current trends.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a nationwide lockdown in March when the country was reporting fewer than 100 daily cases, winning praise from some experts for early action, but warnings from others the restrictions had been imposed too soon.

India's economy shrank by nearly a quarter in the April-June period, data showed on Monday, worse than forecast and placing increasing pressure on policymakers to kick-start growth, despite the high number of new cases.

The chief minister of Goa, a popular tourist destination that has recently relaxed quarantine rules to attract visitors, said yesterday he had tested positive for the virus.

"Those who have come in my close contact are advised to take the necessary precautions," Mr Pramod Sawant, a member of Mr Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, said in a tweet.

The authorities in the capital New Delhi were due to meet later yesterday to discuss the reopening of the city's metro, despite fresh cases there sitting at a two-month high.

India is considering extending its flagship jobs programme in villages to workers in cities left unemployed by the virus-induced lockdowns, a government official said.

The programme, when approved, may be rolled out in smaller cities and initially cost about 350 billion rupees (S$6.5 billion), said Mr Sanjay Kumar, a joint secretary in the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.

"The government has been considering this idea since last year," he said. "The pandemic gave a push to this discussion."

Mr Modi's government is already spending more than one trillion rupees on a rural jobs programme this year, under which workers in the hinterland can earn a guaranteed minimum daily wage of 202 rupees for at least 100 days a year.

An urban version of the plan will soften the blow on citizens most affected by the coronavirus fallout, which has set Asia's third-largest economy on course for its deepest contraction in history. The idea is to start with smaller towns because big-city projects typically need professional expertise, Mr Kumar said.

The rural programme involves employing people for local public works projects such as road-building, well-digging and reforestation.

It now covers over 270 million people and was used as a tool to provide employment to migrant workers returning from cities amid the lockdowns. That said, Covid-19 also decimated livelihoods in urban India, creating a new underclass of workers who are being pushed into poverty, according to an analysis by the London School of Economics.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 03, 2020, with the headline 'India's total infections near 3.8m mark'. Print Edition | Subscribe