India on Thursday reported more than 50,000 daily coronavirus cases for the first time, driven by a surge in infections in rural areas at a time when the government is further easing curbs on movement and commerce.
There were 52,123 new cases in the previous 24 hours, according to federal health data, taking the total number of infections to almost 1.6 million.
Some 775 people died of COVID-related conditions over the same period, raising total deaths now just under 35,000 - low compared to the total number of cases, but showing little sign of slowing.
While major cities like New Delhi and Mumbai have seen their cases ease, infections in rural areas are continuing to rise sharply, alarming experts who fear weak healthcare systems there will be unable to cope.
India has the third highest number of infections globally, behind the United States and Brazil. It has nearly twenty times the number of cases as China, which has a similar-sized population and where the virus was first recorded late last year.
Separately, New Delhi announced the third phase of easing restrictions that had been aimed at preventing the spread of the virus. An evening curfew will be lifted from August 1, and gyms will be allowed to open, but schools, cinemas, and bars will remain closed.
The restrictions, which included an almost total shutdown of the country for nearly three months, have hurt small businesses in what is still predominantly a low-income country.
Consumer demand is showing little sign of picking up ahead of India’s festival season, where it usually rises significantly.
“Every year we get orders for big idols, but this year due to COVID-19 restrictions we didn’t get any,” Alagar, an idol maker in the southern city of Madurai, told Reuters partner ANI on Thursday.