The nationwide tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases crossed 85,000 on Friday with more people testing positive for the deadly virus infection from Kashmir to Kerala and from Karnataka to Bihar, even as indications emerged about greater relaxations in the fourth phase of the lockdown beginning Monday to contain economic costs of the pandemic.
Going by the numbers declared by different states and union territories, India has now surpassed China's official tally of 82,933 confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Though some new cases have emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan -- the epicentre of the deadly virus -- less than 100 people are now undergoing treatment across China, which recorded 4,633 deaths due to COVID-19 but more than 78,000 have been discharged after recovery, as per their official data.
Globally, more than 3 lakh people have died and nearly 45 lakh have tested positive for the deadly virus since its emergence in Wuhan last December. While China and several other countries have begun reopening their economies, fresh concerns have begun mounting about a possible re-emergence of the virus.
India is now the 11th most affected nation in the world, but each one of the top-ten have one lakh or more cases. The US tops the charts with more than 14 lakh cases, followed by Russia, UK, Spain, Italy and Brazil with over 2 lakh cases each; and France, Germany, Turkey and Iran having over 1 lakh cases each.
In its morning 8 AM update, the Union Health Ministry said the death toll due to COVID-19 across India has risen to 2,649 and the number of cases has climbed to 81,970, registering an increase of 100 deaths and 3,967 cases in the last 24 hours since Thursday morning. There are more than 51,000 active cases, while nearly 28,000 have recovered, giving a recovery rate of over 34 per cent.
However, a PTI tally of numbers reported by states and UTs, as of 9 PM, put the total number of confirmed cases across the country much higher at 85,538. This also showed at least 2,679 deaths and nearly 30,000 recoveries.
Jammu & Kashmir, Bihar and Karnataka breached the 1,000-mark in terms of the number of people having tested positive, while testing and containment measures were ramped up in places like, Kerala, Goa and Manipur that were being seen as being mostly virus-free till a few days back. Even a quarantine centre had to be sealed in Manipur.
On the other hand, large numbers of cases continued to get detected in big urban clusters. Maharashtra, the most-affected state, reported 1,576 new cases to take its tally to 29,100, while its death toll rose to 1,068. Tamil Nadu crossed the 10,000 mark with 434 new cases, while Gujarat saw 340 more people testing positive to push its tally to 9,932.
According to the Union Health Ministry, 30 municipal areas account for 79 per cent of India's coronavirus infection caseload.
At a meeting of a group of ministers chaired by Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, it was stressed that the focus of COVID-19 management strategy needs to be on the states with the highest number of confirmed cases and fatalities. Also, focus is needed on treatment and case fatality management, for which timely detection and contact tracing were the best way forward.
The Finance Ministry in the meantime unveiled the third booster dose, mainly consisting of measures aimed at helping farmers and for reforms in agriculture and allied sectors, of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Rs 20 lakh crore 'special package' for making India self-reliant in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Modi said the third tranche will help the rural economy and boost farmers' income.
India has been under a lockdown since March 25, which was initially scheduled to end on April 14 but has got extended twice -- first till May 3 and then till May 17 with some relaxations.
A final decision on the fourth phase is expected soon, but officials said there could be greater relaxations and more flexibility for states and union territories while measures being explored include gradual reopening of the railways and domestic airlines.
Schools, colleges, malls and cinema halls may not be allowed to open anywhere in the country, but salons, barber shops and optical shops may be allowed everywhere barring COVID-19 containment areas. E-retailers may be allowed to deliver non-essential items too.
Final guidelines will be issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs after going through the suggestions of various state governments. During his last interaction with chief ministers, Modi had asked them to submit their suggestions by May 15.
According to officials, Punjab, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Assam and Telangana want the lockdown to continue, while some states have sought powers to decide the zoning of districts -- green, orange and red -- as per the COVID-19 situation.
This request of the state governments may be accepted so that they can restrict or allow movement of people or economic activities in a particular place depending on the ground situation, an official told PTI.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his address to the nation on Monday, had said that the lockdown 4.0 will have a "completely different form", with new rules.
"No state wants complete withdrawal of lockdown but all want gradual resumption of economic activities," the official said.
Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka are among some states which are not in favour of complete resumption of train and air services, at least till May-end.
The railways have already started special trains to 15 destinations from Delhi and have been running several hundred 'Shramik Special' trains from different parts of the country to various places for transportation of migrant workers stranded due to the lockdown. Air India is also engaged in evacuation of thousands of Indians stranded abroad during the lockdown under the 'Vande Bharat Mission'.
However, there have been cases of people testing positive after reaching their native places using these trains and flights.
Officials said local trains, buses and metro services may start running with limited capacity in non-containment areas of red zones. Autos and taxis are also expected to be allowed in all zones with restrictions on the number of passengers, barring areas identified as 'containment zones'.
Maharashtra has favoured strict lockdown measures in Mumbai, its suburbs and Pune, and a complete ban on inter-state and inter-district transport.
However, Gujarat wants resumption of economic activities in major urban centres. Delhi, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala have also favoured opening up of economic activities.
Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha, which have seen a spike in the COVID-19 cases after arrival of migrant workers, want the lockdown to continue with strict curbs on movement of people.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel has urged Modi not to open state boundaries for the next few months, except for migrants or essential services.
Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said the state has written to the Centre urging extension of the lockdown by two more weeks.
Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa said the Centre may announce many relaxations in the lockdown after May 17.
The Arunachal Pradesh government has decided to resume state transport bus service to various destinations from May 18, while the Haryana Roadways has already resumed bus services on select routes within the state.
The Kejriwal government also recommended to relax norms for offices with 50% staff in private companies, irrespective of location. Similar strength has been recommended for government office but in accordance to MHA guidelines.
For metro trains, the government has suggested use of smart cards only and "seating inside coaches to be on alternative basis". It said that buses shall be permitted with a condition that not more than 20 passengers are allowed in it; and for cab services, no car pool shall be allowed.
(With PTI inputs)