India on Thursday passed eight million coronavirus cases, with the world’s second-worst-hit country bracing for a possible second wave ahead of winter and a series of religious festivals.
There have now been 8,040,203 cases and 120,527 deaths across the country of 1.3 billion people, according to the latest government figures.
The United States has seen 9.1 million cases and more than 230,000 deaths.
India has one of the world’s lowest death rates and ministers have highlighted the slowing number of new infections in recent weeks.
But authorities are preparing for a new surge after Diwali, the country’s most important religious festival on November 14.
“All states need to be careful during the coming festive season. This caution must be exercised for the next three months at least,” Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said in a recent statement.
A stringent lockdown imposed in March has gradually been eased as the government seeks to reboot the economy after the loss of millions of jobs nationwide. But experts say this has helped spread Covid-19.
New Delhi recorded 5,000 new cases on Wednesday, its highest daily figure since the outbreak of the pandemic. Officials have warned that the capital could see more than 10,000 cases a day in the next wave.
Randeep Guleria, director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, told the Times of India newspaper that if cases continued surging the country’s fragile healthcare system “will get really stressed.”
Experts have said crowds gathering for Diwali and other festivals, colder temperatures, and the annual winter pollution crisis could worsen the impact of coronavirus cases in Delhi.
Authorities are also worried about the southern state of Kerala and West Bengal in the east which have seen worrying spikes in cases.
Financial capital Mumbai, India’s worst-hit city with more than 250,000 cases and over 10,000 deaths, is currently adding about 2,000 cases a day.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has warned the population in recent speeches that they are being “careless” in giving up social distancing and other precautions.
While businesses and theatres have slowly started to reopen, schools and colleges remain shut in most cities and international flights are severely limited.
India only has air links with a small number of countries — including the United States, France, Germany, and Britain — where they have made special arrangements.
India’s domestic air market was the world’s fastest-growing before the pandemic but is currently operating at less than 60 percent of the capacity of 12 months ago.