NEW DELHI: India will throw open shopping malls, restaurants and places of worship that typically attract large crowds next week, officials said, even though coronavirus infections are rising at the fastest daily rate than at any time in the past three months.
Anxious to jump-start an economy crippled by COVID-19 and put millions of people back to work, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is dismantling its vast lockdown of the 1.3 billion population imposed in March.
Strict guidelines will accompany the loosening of restrictions on Monday, however.
Hotel guests will be tested for fever, masks will be compulsory at all times, and restaurants will have to set tables apart to maintain social distancing when they reopen on Monday, according to rules issued by the federal home ministry.
In places of worship, people will be asked to wash their hands and feet before entering, and there will be no distribution of food offerings or sprinkling of holy water or touching of idols and holy books.
“In view of the potential threat of spread of infection, as far as feasible, recorded devotional music/songs may be played (but) choir or singing groups should not be allowed,” the home ministry said on its website.
India‘s places of worship especially Hindu temples draw many thousands of people and the premises are usually not big enough to allow for social distancing. At Delhi’s popular Sai temple, administrators have painted circles on the street for people to stand so that they can regulate entry through its narrow corridors.
Total coronavirus infections in India have reached 226,770, along with 6,348 deaths, the health ministry said on Friday. At the current rate of growth, the caseload will surpass Italy within the next two days to become the world’s sixth largest.
With this in mind, some health experts cautioned against a hasty reopening.
“Preventing cluster formations (of COVID-19 infections) is the need of the hour. We are opening up religious places too soon, too fast. Gods can wait,” Giridhar R Babu, epidemiologist at the Public Health Foundation of India, wrote on Twitter.
“The rising cases in Delhi is worrisome,” federal Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said at a review meeting with city officials where he urged them to step up surveillance.
There were 9,851 new infections in the last 24 hours, according to the health ministry, up from last week’s average daily growth of around 8,000. Mumbai, with a fifth of the infections, followed by Delhi and Chennai remain the hotspots.