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India re-opens metro despite virus surge


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Commuters flashed victory signs as India restarted city metro services Monday after a nearly six-month hiatus, determined to live with the new normal even as the vast nation overtook Brazil as the second-worst coronavirus-affected country.

Masked commuters sat in mostly empty coaches as journalists clambered for pictures at metro stations in the capital New Delhi — one of the most badly hit cities, along with financial hub Mumbai.

Passengers had to leave empty seats between each other, and could only enter carriages after undergoing temperature screening.

“For our lives to move on, we have to get out of our homes… so this is a good move by the government to start the metro trains,” said passenger Deepak Kumar.

“Social distancing is being followed and… people are using facemasks and sanitising,” he told AFP.

The resumption of metro services came as the South Asian nation recorded 4.2 million infections since the pandemic began, health ministry data showed.

It surpassed Brazil’s total, making it the second-highest tally behind the United States’ 6.25 million.

India has also recorded 71,642 deaths, fewer than the 126,203 in Brazil and 188,540 in the US.

Since August the country of 1.3 billion people, home to some of the world’s most densely populated cities, has been reporting the highest single-day rises in the world.

On Monday it reported an increase of more than 90,000 cases.

Its caseload had moved past four million on Saturday, only 13 days after hitting three million.

The re-opening of the metro is part of an effort by the government to gradually restart economic activity after the strict lockdown imposed from late March saw growth contract by a record 23.9 percent in April to June.

Commuters shrugged off the restrictions imposed by metro authorities.

Only one line was operational — for four hours in the morning and four in the afternoon — while trains had to be fully sanitised after each journey.

“It’s the new normal, and I guess all of us need to take that responsibility,” said Rashi Bhargave onboard a train in Delhi.

The metro carried 2.7 million passengers a day before the epidemic around the 400-kilometre (250 mile) network.

The city of 20 million people recorded some 3,256 new infections on Sunday — its highest single-day spike in 73 days. It was also the first time cases crossed the 3,000 mark during this period.

Virologist Shahid Jameel, who heads the Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance, said the key factor to watch is the growth rate in infections, which he called “quite alarming”.

“Over the past two weeks, the… average has moved from about 65,000 cases per day to about 83,000 cases per day, that is about a 27 percent increase over two weeks or about two percent per day,” Jameel told AFP.

India has been testing more than 10 million people per day on average, with plans to ramp it up further.

The Indian Council of Medical Research, the scientific agency leading the government’s response, on Friday revised the testing criteria, allowing anyone to get a test without a doctor’s letter.

Jameel said the move was overdue.

“This will uncover more asymptomatic people, who are the real source of this expansion in India. There should also be more testing in rural districts and villages, since over two-thirds of the cases are coming from there,” he said.


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