Amid mounting worries about a deep recession due to the coronavirus lockdown, authorities on Wednesday announced plans to resume domestic flights from next week and also asked the entertainment industry to restart shoots and post-production activities. The nationwide COVID-19 tally in the meantime crossed 1.1 lakh with over 5,000 new cases getting during the day.
The Union Health Ministry said the recovery rate among those having tested positive has risen to nearly 40 percent, from about 7 percent before the lockdown began on March 25. It also said that hospital support was needed by less than 7 percent of patients.
In its morning 8 AM update, the ministry said the COVID-19 death toll has risen to 3,303 after 140 more deaths were reported in the last 24 hours, while the number of cases across the country rose by more than 5,600 to reach 1,06,750.
However, a PTI tally of figures announced by different states and union territories, as of 9.15 PM, but the nationwide tally of confirmed cases at 1,10,590 and the death toll at 3,355. This showed 5,092 new cases since Tuesday night and 210 more fatalities, while the recoveries also increased by over 3,000 to 44,757.
During a press briefing on the COVID-19 situation, Health Ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal said the total active COVID-19 cases now stands at 61,149 in the country and 42,298 people have recovered.
The current recovery rate stands at 39.62 per cent while it was 7.1 per cent at the beginning of lockdown, he added.
The nationwide lockdown was initially imposed for a 21-day period till April 14, but later got extended till May 3 in the second phase and then for another 14-day third phase till May 17. A two-week-long fourth phase is now underway till May 31, but with several restrictions having been relaxed to boost economic activities.
Announcing further relaxations, Union Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said on Wednesday that domestic flights will resume in a calibrated manner from May 25, two months after the services were shut due to the coronavirus.
The minister, however, did not mention any update for international flights, which have also remained shut during the lockdown, barring for special flights being operated to bring back stranded Indians and expatriates from abroad.
The Union Home Ministry also said later in the night that domestic flights have been removed from the list of prohibited activities during the lockdown.
The aviation sector has been among the worst hit by the pandemic as various countries, including India, decided to suspend commercial flights completely to curb the spread of the virus. Several Indian carriers have resorted to pay cuts, layoffs, and leave without pay for their staff members.
Similar is the situation for many other sectors, while a huge manpower shortage is also looming large due to the return of lakhs of migrant workers to their native places after being rendered jobless, and even homeless in most cases, from most of the industrial clusters across the country where they were working before the lockdown.
Cab aggregator Ola is laying off 1,400 staff as its revenue declined by 95 percent in the last two months due to the coronavirus pandemic, CEO Bhavish Aggarwal said in an email to employees.
Rating agency Icra warned of a deep recession and drastically lowered its FY21 GDP forecast for the Indian economy to a contraction of 5 percent, citing the very modest fiscal support, an extension of the nationwide lockdown, and the looming labor shortage.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the industry needs to reset its relations with workers in view of the COVID-19 fallouts and consider a professional way to engage unskilled workers.
The Congress party accused the government of implementing the lockdown in an unplanned manner without any exit strategy.
In Mumbai, Maharashtra Chief Minister Udhhav Thackeray interacted with representatives of the entertainment industry and asked them to prepare an action plan on the limited resumption of film shooting and post-production activities by adhering to social distancing norms amidst the coronavirus-induced lockdown.
He, however, ruled out reopening of cinema halls or theatres anytime soon.
Thackeray said the central government feels that the spike in coronavirus cases will be higher by May-end and in June, but the spread has been controlled to a large extent in Maharashtra, which has been the worst-hit by the deadly virus with more than 39,000 confirmed cases.
Maharashtra recorded 2,250 new coronavirus cases during the day, taking its tally to 39,297, while its toll rose to 1,390 after 65 more fatalities including 41 in Mumbai. This was the fourth consecutive day when the state reported more than 2,000 coronavirus cases.
Two policemen also died due to coronavirus infection in Mumbai, taking the number of police personnel who have died due to the pandemic in Maharashtra to 14, ten of them in Mumbai. At least 1,388 police personnel including 142 officers have tested positive for coronavirus in Maharashtra, 700 of them in Mumbai alone.
Tamil Nadu, another badly affected state by the infection, reported 743 new cases to take its tally to 13,191, but also announced nearly 1,000 recoveries. Of the new cases, the state government said, 83 were returnees from Maharashtra.
In the national capital, a record number of 534 new cases were detected to take Delhi's tally to over 11,000, while its death toll reached 176.
The Delhi government, in the meantime, launched an exercise to define its own "Red, Orange and Green zones" -- marking of areas based on COVID-19 caseload, sources said. Currently, all 11 districts are marked as 'red' under the central government labeling.
New cases were reported across various other states as well, including in Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tripura, Karnataka, Rajasthan, and Andhra Pradesh.
Union Minister Jitendra Singh said the north-eastern states have done better than the rest of India in handling the COVID-19 situation.
In Gujarat, another badly hit state, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani launched a week-long online campaign on COVID-19 fight. He said, "Now, it's a direct battle against coronavirus. We have to live with coronavirus and also fight against it."
Notices were also issued to at least 16 private hospitals in the state for allegedly refusing to admit COVID-19 patients referred to them by Ahmedabad's civic body. The state reported 398 new cases on Wednesday.
Gujarat's coronavirus cases rose to 12,539 with 398 new patients being detected on Wednesday, while the death toll rose to 749 with 30 deaths reported during the day. Ahmedabad alone now has a death toll of 602 and its tally of confirmed cases has risen to 9,216.
Goa, which had managed to free itself of the infection till the return of people from outside in special trains and domestic flights as also through ships and road transport, recorded five new cases during the day to take its tally of active cases to 44.
Jammu and Kashmir recorded 73 fresh COVID-19 cases, taking its tally to 1,390.
In West Bengal, three more COVID-19 deaths were reported, taking the state's death toll to 181. Besides, 142 fresh cases were recorded, pushing the total number of confirmed cases there to 3,103.
Madhya Pradesh reported 270 new cases and nine more deaths, taking the total case count to 5,735 and the death toll to 267. However, a four-month-old girl managed to successfully fight the dreaded infection and returned home from a Bhopal hospital after recovery.
Globally, over 49 lakh people have tested positive for the deadly virus infection since its emergence in China last December and more than 3 lakh have died.
While experts have said that a vaccine is still many months away, all eyes are on US-based company Moderna's encouraging early results on a small group of healthy volunteers.
Eight candidate vaccines for COVID-19 are in the clinical evaluation, while 110 are in the preclinical stage, according to the WHO's latest draft landscape.