The nationwide tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases crossed the 50,000 marks on Wednesday with a large number of healthcare professionals and security personnel testing positive amid the worsening spread of the deadly virus, while authorities also flagged high fatality rates in states like West Bengal, Gujarat, and Maharashtra.
While some positive news came from Kerala with no new infection getting detected there despite the state being among the first ones to witness the spread, Maharashtra reported a record daily increase of more than 1,200 in its number of COVID-19 cases. The economic cost of the pandemic also began to hit the people with a sharp increase in fuel prices.
Looking to shore up their dwindling resources, more states announced higher taxes on liquor sales, while Punjab pegged its overall revenue loss for the month of April at 88 percent due to all its tax revenues have dried up and only 1.5 percent the industry being operational.
Industry sources in various parts of the country said they were wary of opening their plants and offices due to concerns over the movement of their staff, suppliers, transporters, and vendors till the nationwide lockdown, which has been in force since March 25, gets completely lifted.
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While announcing the third phase of the lockdown till May 17, the government had given several relaxations for getting industrial and agricultural activities restarted, but not much has changed on the ground with only a few companies, especially in the manufacturing sector, resuming their operations in a limited way.
The country’s largest carmaker Maruti Suzuki India on Wednesday said it would resume operations at its Manesar plant in Haryana from May 12.
There are widespread fears that the virus spread may get worse with the easing of the lockdown measures as yet, as the nationwide tally of COVID-19 cases has been rising continuously across most of the major urban centers of the country.
While the Union Health Ministry stopped giving an evening update of the COVID-19 tally from Wednesday, its morning update showed the dead rising to 1,694 and the number of cases climbing to 49,391, registering an increase of 126 deaths and 2,958 cases since Tuesday morning. It also showed more than 15,000 people having recovered, giving a recovery rate of nearly 29 percent.
However, a PTI tally of figures reported by different states and union territories till 9 PM put the total number of confirmed cases at 51,435 and the death toll at 1,694.
While Maharashtra has reported the maximum number of cases and fatalities, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Rajasthan Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Karnataka, and Punjab are among other major states affected badly by the virus.
Kerala also has reported more than 500 confirmed cases so far, but it did not report a single new case on Wednesday and the state government officials said the number of active patients is now only 30 as a big majority of COVID-19 patients have recovered.
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan also expressed concern over the high fatality rate among COVID-19 patients in some districts of Maharashtra and Gujarat and asked the states to focus on early surveillance, aggressive contact tracing, and early diagnosis to reduce the number of deaths in the areas.
Maharashtra reported 1,233 new COVID-19 cases — a new single-day high — taking its tally to 16,758, while 34 more deaths raised the toll to 651, a health department official said. Mumbai alone has more than 10,500 cases now.
Gujarat reported 380 new cases and 28 more deaths during the day, taking its total case count to 6,625 and the number of fatalities to 396. This included 291 new cases and 25 more deaths in Ahmedabad alone, where the civic authorities have ordered the closure of all shops except those selling milk and medicines for a week.
Separately, the Union Home Ministry wrote to the West Bengal government that the COVID-19 response in the state was characterized by a very low rate of testing and a very high rate of mortality of 13.2 percent, which it said was by far the highest for any state.
The ministry also flagged instances of overcrowding in markets, free movement of people in large numbers without masks, bathing of people in rivers, people playing cricket and football, serious laxity in enforcing lockdown measures in containment zones, plying of rickshaws without any restriction, saying these were a grave violation of lockdown instructions and social distancing norms.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said her government has identified over 92,000 cases of influenza-like illness and 870 people with severe acute respiratory illness across the state, findings that serve as “early warning signals” in the fight against COVID-19.
Banerjee said the results were the outcome of her government’s extensive door-to-door surveillance over the last one month, covering over 5.5 crore households, and the exercise will continue “till the virus is defeated”.
Official sources said around 548 doctors, nurses, and paramedics across the country have been found to be positive for the virus infection so far. This includes 69 doctors in the national capital. However, this figure does not include field workers, ward boys, sanitation workers, security guards, lab attendants, peons, laundry, and kitchen staff among others and the figures may be much higher after taking these people into account.
Also, at least 154 personnel of the Border Security Force (BSF) have tested positive for coronavirus, including 85 cases that were detected on Wednesday. These include more than 60 deployed for law and order duties in the Jamia and Chandni Mahal area of the national capital and six from the escort team of the inter-ministerial central team (IMCT) that toured West Bengal to check COVID-19 containment measures in the state.
At least 37 infected personnel are from the Tripura frontier of the force.
In the meantime, the Delhi government ordered the release of 4,000 Tablighi members who have completed their required quarantine period in centers in the national capital, sources said. A huge congregation of ‘Tablighi Jamaat’ in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area earlier in March was seen as a major hotspot for the virus spread, after which there were also several cases of Muslims getting targeted and blamed by some for the pandemic.
Thousands of the Jamaat members were subsequently traced in various parts of the country and quarantined, including around 4,000 in Delhi itself.
While nearly 900 of those being released from quarantine are from Delhi itself, the rest are from other states and would be sent back to their home states. A majority of them hail from Tamil Nadu and Telangana.