July 16, 2020 / 10:16 AM / 21 days ago

India coronavirus cases near one million, driven by surge in rural areas

MUMBAI (Reuters) - The number of coronavirus cases in India neared one million on Thursday as infection numbers rose in the countryside, pushing authorities to reinstate lockdowns across several states.

India reported a record 32,696 new cases of the COVID-19 disease caused by the novel coronavirus, bringing the total to 968,876 with 24,915 deaths, according to data from the federal health ministry.

The country of 1.3 billion people is behind only the United States and Brazil in the number of confirmed infections and there is no sign yet of the curve flattening. India’s testing rate is also among the lowest in the world in relation to its population.

While major cities such as Delhi and Mumbai were among the initial hotspots of the virus in India, newer cases are emerging in rural areas where healthcare infrastructure is much weaker.

A fresh lockdown was imposed on Thursday in the largely-rural eastern state of Bihar, where cases have been rising after thousands of migrant workers returned from cities following a strict lockdown to contain the virus spread.

“While the world’s attention has been focused on the unfolding crisis in the United States and South America, a concurrent human tragedy is fast emerging in South Asia,” John Fleming, the Asia Pacific head of health at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said in a statement.

“We now need to urgently turn our attention to this region,” Fleming said, citing dire forecasts that predict thousands of more cases in India in the coming months.

Indian authorities, however, have touted their efforts to contain the virus. “Despite being such a largely populated nation, we can perhaps claim to have performed better than any other country,” Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Thursday, citing a fatality rate of 2.57% and recovery rate of 63.25%.

(For an interactive graphic on state-wise daily coroanvirus cases in India, click here: tmsnrt.rs/2CASYPg)

Reporting by Zeba Siddiqui; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan

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