A physically challenged man rides a tricycle in front of a COVID-19 coronavirus health center in Mumbai on July 7, 2020. (Photo by PUNIT PARANJPE/AFP via Getty Images)

INDIA’s death toll from the coronavirus pandemic surpassed 20,000 on Tuesday (7) and case numbers surged as the south Asian nation pushed ahead with relaxations to its almost two-month lockdown amid grim economic forecasts.

The rate of both new virus infections and deaths are rising at the fastest pace in three months, as officials lift a vast lockdown of India’s 1.3 billion people that has left tens of thousands without work and shuttered businesses.

The country reported 467 new deaths on Tuesday, taking the toll to 20,160. It also recorded 22,252 new infections, increasing the total to 719,665. India on Monday (6) overtook Russia as the third most affected country globally, behind the US and Brazil.

But its death rate per 10,000 people is still a low 0.15, compared with 3.97 in the US and 6.65 in the UK, according to a Reuters tally.

Health officials fear the number of deaths, which usually lag behind the detection of new infections, could rise significantly in coming weeks. India’s death toll is currently the world’s seventh highest, behind the US, Brazil, the UK, Italy, France and Spain.

Over the first week of July, India reported an average of 450 deaths each day, compared with 250 in the first week of June, and 101 in the first week of May.

Officials on Monday withdrew a planned reopening of the Taj Mahal, citing the risk of new coronavirus infections spreading in the northern city of Agra from visitors flocking to see the 17th century monument to love.

The reopening of the Indian economy has been sporadic. While domestic travel has been opened up, international flights remain suspended and containment zones, areas identified as most affected by the virus, remain under strict lockdown.