India locks down more than 125 million as virus surges

PATNA, INDIA (AFP) – More than 125 million people in India began a new lockdown yesterday as authorities worldwide scramble to get a handle on a surge in coronavirus cases that continues to wreak havoc from America to Asia.

The number of infections worldwide hit 13.4 million and more than 581,000 deaths have been reported since the virus emerged in China late last year, with the United States (US) topping the tally.

India saw more than 600 deaths in a single day, and 125 million people in impoverished Bihar state yesterday started a new 15-day lockdown.

The country’s booming southern information technology (IT) hub of Bangalore and the coastal tourist state of Goa launched fresh restrictions earlier this week as the Red Cross warned south Asia is fast becoming the next epicentre of the virus.

“While the world’s attention has been focussed on the unfolding crisis in the US and South America, a concurrent human tragedy is fast emerging in South Asia,” said Asia-Pacific Head of Health for the organisation John Fleming.

A doctor performs yoga with a young patient inside a ward at the Commonwealth Games (CWG) Village sports complex, temporarily converted into a COVID-19 care centre, in New Delhi. PHOTO: AFP

India’s case count is on course to hit one million today or tomorrow and the number of deaths is approaching 25,000.

All schools, clubs, temples and non-essential businesses were ordered to close in Bihar but it remained to be seen what success officials would have in corralling the state’s vast population. An AFP staffer in Patna, the state capital, said yesterday morning that traffic appeared to be as busy as normal.

“We have not faced such a situation in my life before, it is really a horrible experience,” said Radhika Singh, a housewife in her late 40s as she jostled to buy rice and lentils on Wednesday ahead of the start of the lockdown.

Governments in many countries have been forced to roll back on plans to re-open battered economies as the virus refuses to fade.

But there were signs of hope in Asia as China reported a bounce-back of its economy with a 3.2 per cent expansion in the second quarter – better than forecast.

Most cinemas in the country will be allowed to re-open next week, with social distancing rules in place, after domestic infections remained at zero for 10 straight days.

In the meantime, however, adjusting to the new normal of masks, confinement and social distancing is proving too much for some to bear.

Authorities in Australia pleaded for the public to heed guidelines as roughly five million people in Melbourne endure a lockdown in force since last week.

“A particular concern for us is the ongoing parties and gatherings,” said Acting Assistant Commissioner for Police in the southern state of Victoria Rick Nugent.