By Rajendra Jadhav and Zarir Hussain
MUMBAI/GUWAHATI, India (Reuters) - India's coronavirus infections surpassed 600,000 on Thursday, with 17,834 deaths, as authorities battled to contain the pandemic while easing lockdown rules, officials and the health ministry said.
Fresh challenges to protect people from the virus emerged for disaster management officials in the northeast state of Assam amid torrential rainfall, where floods and landslides killed 57 people this week and more than 1.5 million were forced to flee their homes.
Assam's health minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, said the state had started testing aggressively to identify coronavirus cases among villagers forced to take shelter in community halls, schools and government buildings.
"We were isolating new coronavirus hotspots; the situation is very critical," Sarma told Reuters.
The increase in infections presents a severe challenge for India's strained medical capacity and overburdened health system.
The fear of being quarantined in poorly maintained government facilities has discouraged people from getting tested, experts say, leading to fresh cases of COVID-19 even after the government imposed the world's longest lockdown.
An easing phase called "Unlock 2" was announced on Monday, allowing more economic activities to resume.
But the western state of Maharashtra reported a record jump of 5,537 coronavirus infections on Wednesday, prompting authorities to again impose a stringent lockdown in areas around the financial capital, Mumbai, forcing people to stop commuting in a city largely dependent on public transport.
The state accounts for more than a fifth of total infections in the country and nearly half of the deaths, has reported total to 180,297 infections including 8052 deaths so far.
(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open https://tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.)
(Writing by Rupam Jain, Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Gerry Doyle)