Unlocking in Times of Covid-19: Malls, Restaurants, Religious Places Reopen as Death Toll Nears 7,500

Restaurants, malls and places of worship reopened on Monday in various parts of the country under a phased exit from the COVID-19 lockdown, even as the pandemic appeared growing unabated with a record rise of about 10,000 new cases pushing the nationwide tally to 2.6 lakh and the death toll nearing 7,500.

Mumbai, the country's financial capital and the worst hit city by the dreaded virus outbreak, alone saw its tally of confirmed cases crossing 50,000 and its death count reached 1,702.

While India is the world's fifth most affected nation by COVID-19 in terms of total number of confirmed cases after the US, Brazil, Russia and the UK, Mumbai's tally itself is bigger than those of South Africa, Netherlands, Sweden, UAE, Singapore, Portugal, Indonesia, Switzerland, Ukraine, Poland, Japan, Austria, Denmark, South Korea, Malaysia, Australia, Finland and many other countries.

Delhi recorded 1,007 new cases to take its tally to close to 30,000, while its death toll mounted to 874. The national capital now has more cases than Ukraine, Poland, Ireland, Argentina, Philippines, Israel and Japan, among other countries.

In the national capital, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has also also gone into self-quarantine after developing sore throat and fever, and will get himself tested for COVID-19 on Tuesday, officials said.

Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain said the national capital's case count may cross 56,000 cases in the next two weeks at the current rate. Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said a crucial meeting will be held on Tuesday to assess whether COVID-19 has entered the community transmission phase in the city.

Globally, over 4 lakh people have died and more than 70 lakh have tested positive for the virus ever since its emergence in China last December. More than 31 lakh have recovered too, including nearly 1.25 lakh in India, making it one of the top-ten countries for recoveries from this infectious disease, according to a real-time coronavirus tracker maintained by Johns Hopkins University.

Besides Mumbai, Maharashtra has recorded large numbers in Thane and Pune too, among some other places. The state's overall tally of confirmed cases rose by more than 2,500 on Monday to reach 88,528 and its death toll mounted to 3,169.

Maharashtra's overall tally of people having tested positive for the novel coronavirus infection has now exceeded the numbers recorded by China, Qatar, Bangladesh, Belgium and Belarus, among a host of several other countries.

Tamil Nadu, the second worst-hit state in terms of the case count, reported 1,562 new cases and 17 more deaths, pushing the infection tally to 33,229 and the toll to 286. In the southern Indian state, more people have been found infected with this dreaded virus than those in countries like Kuwait, Indonesia, Switzerland, Ukraine, Poland, Ireland, Argentina and Afghanistan, among others.

Gujarat, which has also been hit hard by the pandemic, reported 477 new cases and 31 more fatalities, taking its overall case count to 20,574 and the death toll to 1,280. The state now has more cases than Israel, Oman, Japan, Austria, Panama and Bahrain, among several other countries.

Within Gujarat, Ahmedabad reported 346 new cases and 24 fatalities during the day, taking its total case count to 14,631 and the death toll to 1,039. Its tally of confirmed cases is now bigger than those of Denmark, South Korea, Norway, Malaysia, Australia, Finland, Luxembourg and Thailand, among other countries.

Just Mumbai and Ahmedabad together account for over one-fourth of the nationwide COVID-19 tally of confirmed cases, while their collective share in the death toll is even higher at around two-fifth.

Taken together with Delhi, Pune and Kolkata, these five major urban clusters account for nearly two-third of the COVID-19 related deaths across the country. Other major cities hit hard by the crisis include Chennai and Jaipur, but fatalities have been relatively lower there.

Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Puducherry, Odisha, Assam, Manipur, Tripura, Mizoram and Nagaland, among other states and UTs, also reported rising numbers of cases.

In its latest update, the Union Health Ministry said the number of confirmed cases across India has risen to 2,56,611 with a record 24-hour spike of 9,983 cases since Sunday 8 AM, while the death toll rose by 271 during this period to 7,200. The tally includes nearly 1.24 lakh active cases, while almost a similar number of people have recovered too.

However, a PTI tally of figures announced by different states and UTs, as of 9.35 PM, showed a higher number of 2,57,777 people having tested positive so far and a death toll of 7,468.

The Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 tracker showed India's tally of confirmed cases at over 2.60 lakh and a death toll of 7,263, as of 9.45 PM. So far, close to 48 lakh people have been tested in India, according to the government data.

The Union Health Ministry in the meantime asked officials of 45 civic bodies across 38 districts in 10 states, that are witnessing a surge in COVID-19 cases, to focus on house to-house surveys, carry out prompt testing and undertake active surveillance measures to contain the infection and reduce mortality.

Several states and UTs in the meantime saw places of worship, shopping malls and restaurants getting reopened, in line with the Centre's Unlock Phase 1 guidelines, though a few including Jharkhand, Odisha and Maharashtra appeared treading cautiously and have not allowed these establishments to restart.

Some states also allowed hotels to restart subject to the prescribed guidelines for social distancing and personal as well as public hygiene measures.

In West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced that the lockdown, which was to end on June 15, has been extended in the state for another 15 days. However, she also announced various relaxations.

Shopping malls, restaurants and other establishments reopened in West Bengal too after a gap of over two months, while government offices saw nearly 70 per cent of the staff reporting for duty.

Assam and Bihar also saw places of worship, shopping malls and restaurants across the state getting reopened. Jharkhand, however, said places of worship and shopping malls will continue to remain closed in the state.

Religious places opened in parts of Uttar Pradesh as well, but few devotees were seen turning up to offer prayers with the authorities restricting the number of people paying obeisance to five at a time at a place of worship.

The Ram Janmabhoomi temple in Ayodhya also opened with certain precautions in place to prevent the coronavirus spread. The construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya is set to begin from Wednesday when the first bricks will be laid for its foundation, according to a spokesperson for the head of the temple trust.

Most temples in Uttarakhand also reopened their gates for devotees, except the famous Chardham and those within the limits of Dehradun municipal area.

Some ASI monuments having places of worship will, however, remain shut in Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Odisha and Jammu and Kashmir despite nod from the central government to reopen them from Monday, officials said.

In the national capital also, malls, restaurants and religious places reopened for the public. While traffic snarls were witnessed in various cities, few of them saw any big rush at malls and restaurants.

There have been concerns that a prolonged lockdown was hurting the economy in a big way with many experts having forecast a deep recession for the current quarter and also a severe impact in the second quarter of the current fiscal, thus pulling down the GDP growth figure for the entire year.

After dominating the conversations for weeks, coronavirus also appeared falling off the popularity charts on the internet as netizens in the country went back to searching for topics like films and weather on Google in May, as per the search trend data from the global giant.

Kerala's health minister K K Shailaja, however, cautioned the people to take the coronavirus seriously by maintaining the health protocol such as social distancing, hand-washing and masks.

India's first COVID-19 case was detected in Kerala on January 30, but the state had managed to flatten the infection curve successfully before a frew wave emerged last month following the return of its people from other states in special trains and buses and in special flights from abroad.

The COVID-19 tally in Kerala crossed the 2,000 mark on Monday with 91 new cases getting detected, while its death toll rose to 16 after a Maldives returnee succumbed to the virus.

(With inputs from PTI)