India reports biggest one-day virus spike

NEW DELHI (AP) – India recorded its biggest single-day spike in COVID-19 cases yesterday as the government eased one of the world’s strictest lockdowns to allow some manufacturing and agricultural activity to resume.

An additional 1,553 cases were reported over 24 hours, raising the national total past 17,000. At least 543 people have died from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, and epidemiologists forecast the peak may not be reached before June.

The shelter-in-place orders imposed in India on March 24 halted all but essential services, sparking an exodus of migrant workers and people who survive on daily wages out of India’s cities and toward villages in rural areas. Authorities picked up travellers in a fleet of buses and quarantined many of them in empty schools and other public buildings for 14 days.

Limited industry and farming were allowed to resume where employers could meet social distancing and hygiene norms, and migrant workers were allowed to travel within states to factories, farms and other work sites.

“In the event a group of migrants wish to return to their places of work within the state where they are presently located, they would be screened and those who are asymptomatic would be trans-ported to their respective places of work,” the Indian Home Ministry said in a letter to state governments.

However, government surveys in the central Indian state of Maharashtra, the worst-hit by the virus, have suggested few companies eligible to restart operations can do so because they are required to transport and shelter workers as a virus-prevention measure.

While a partial lifting of a curfew permitted the restart of coal plants and oil refineries, animal feed and agro-industry, and other labour-intensive manufacturing such as brick kilns, much of the country remained under lockdown.

India’s airspace was closed to commercial traffic, its passenger rail system, buses and metros were halted, e-commerce was restricted to food and other essentials, and schools, stadiums and houses of worship remained closed until May 3.

Indian tribal women stand in a queue outside a grocery shop during the nationwide lockdown at Daranggiri village, west of Gauhati, India. PHOTO: AP