India eases coronavirus lockdown as experts warn of rising infections

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Agartala, Jun 09, 2020,

India has taken a significant step towards loosening its lockdown, reopening places of worship, restaurants and shopping malls, despite coronavirus cases continuing to soar and experts warning the country was far from hitting its peak.

Over the weekend India overtook both Italy and Spain to register the fifth highest number of coronavirus cases in the world, 257,000, with cases climbing by more than 9,000 each day. The death toll from Covid-19 stands at 7,135.

The easing of India’s lockdown of its 1.3 billion people, which has been in place since 24 March, went ahead as scheduled on Monday. While it is acknowledged to have slowed the spread of the virus, it has had a brutal impact on India’s poor, particularly tens of millions of migrant workers.

Shopping malls and restaurants opened their doors, and mosques, temples and gurdwaras began welcoming back worshippers, with strict limits on congregation numbers and physical distancing measures in place. In Delhi, the 400-year-old Jama Masjid mosque, one of the biggest in India, is planning to limit worshippers to just three visits a day, instead of the usual five.

Yet experts fear the easing is coming at a worrying time in India’s battle to contain the virus, with 50% of India’s total cases reported in the last two weeks. “We are very far away from the peak,” said Dr Nivedita Gupta, of the government-run Indian Council of Medical Research.

The situation remains particularly dire in India’s largest and most populous cities of Delhi and Mumbai, where state-run hospitals have run out of beds and are turning patients away. Maharashtra, India’s worst-hit state where Mumbai is located, has reported a reported a total of 85,975 cases.

Vikas Jain, a Delhi resident, spoke of the ordeal his brother-in-law Narender Jain, 47, experienced after he developed coronavirus symptoms and bounced between five hospitals.

He was first refused entry at two Delhi hospitals, East Delhi hospital and Pushpanjali medical centre, which both said they had no beds. Finally, at about 4am on 2 June when his condition was getting dramatically worse, Narender was admitted to the emergency intensive care unit in Max Patparganj private hospital and put on a ventilator, but only when his family agreed to pay a deposit of 50,000 rupees (£520).But he was not permitted to stay.

“The next morning, when the test result came through that he had tested positive for Covid-19, the hospital told us they were unable to admit him because there were no beds and no ventilators for Covid-19 patients, so we would have to take him somewhere else,” said Vikas. “I could not believe it. They also said their ambulances would not take Covid patients so we would have to arrange our own ambulance.”

All private Delhi hospitals they called said they had no beds for coronavirus patients so the family took Narender in the privately-hired ambulance to a nearby government Rajiv Gandhi hospital, but they said they had no ICU beds for Covid patients. After another two hours, a government-run hospital agreed to admit him.

“But there was no care for him, no attendants even came out and me and my sister had to carry my brother-in-law myself from the ambulance on to the stretcher and take him up two floors of the hospital with no help. We had no protective equipment,” Vikas said. “In the hospital, they then told us that it would be another two hours till he could go on a ventilator.” Narender died that day.

Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, issued a decree over the weekend that only those with documentary proof of residency in the capital would be admitted to the city’s hospitals. In normal times, up to 70% of hospital beds in Delhi are taken by those who have come from outside the city for treatment.

“It has suggested reserving Delhi hospitals for the people of Delhi, because if we open the hospitals for all, then the 9,000 Covid-19 beds organised will be filled just within three days,” Kejriwal said, adding: “If we get more cases in such a situation, where will we accommodate the patients of Delhi?” However, hours later the decision was overturned by the city’s lieutenant governor, who said patients could not be denied treatment on the grounds of their address.

On Monday, Kejriwal went into self-quarantine with a sore throat and fever and will be tested for Covid-19 on Tuesday.