Cinemas, swimming-pools, bars and restaurants will reopen in India, while students can attend classes as the government has further eased Covid-19 restrictions at the start of the festival season which will see millions on the streets of the sub-continent this month.
The state of Maharashtra in India’s west, which has reported 1.4 million Covid-19 infections so far, decided to allow customers into restaurants and bars from Monday. This is part of the so-called 'Unlock 5.0' exercise to re-start India’s moribund economy.
An association of hoteliers said two-thirds of Mumbai’s 15,000 restaurants cannot fully re-start business as their workers left town when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government enforced a nationwide lockdown in March.
The authorities in Kolkata expanded city train services from Monday, much to the glee of many of the city's 14 million residents who prepare well in advance for Durga Puja, a hugely-popular religious event set to start on 22 October.
‘We work or we starve’
“If we don’t work this month… we will go hungry the entire year,” said artist Ritwik Kormokar, as he worked on a clay idol of the Hindu goddess Durga.
Tens of millions of migrant workers and small traders lost their livelihoods during the lockdown.
The government also seemed to be betting heavily on an annual shopping frenzy ahead of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights on 14 November.
The former French enclave of Puducherry allowed high schools to reopen from Monday but the national government left it to state authorities to decide whether to resume class-room studies.
'Unlock 5.0' stipulated that certain services and entertainment centers outside ‘containment zones’ can reopen from 15 October with health safeguards in place.
Amitabh Kanth who heads the government’s main policy-making agency backed the 'unlocking' exercise.
“While the pandemic is still there we have seen a huge rebound and I only hope that the states now realize that the lockdown is not the solution,” Kanth told Times Now television.
India on ‘plateau’ as Covid numbers surge
Kanth’s comments came as the government suggested India may have climbed past the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Data for the 14-day period from September 17 to 30 suggests that India may have crossed the peak of Covid-19 case-load,” the finance ministry said in its economic outlook for September.
“The seven-day moving average of daily positive cases has steadily declined from about 93,000 to 83,000,” it said, warning that the pandemic was far from over.
Indian experts such as Randeep Guleria, who heads the Delhi-based All India Institute of Medical Sciences, remains wary.
“I think this has to be more sustainable for a number of days before we say ‘yes’ there is this plateau and hopefully after that we may see a downward trend,” Guleria said.
India’s coronavirus infection tally rose by 74,442 in the last 24 hours to 6.6 million on Monday. Covid deaths have surpassed the milestone of 100,000 but the rate of recovery is pegged at around 82 percent.
India needs 500 million doses of vaccine
India’s health minister Harsh Vardhan meanwhile said he was hoping to receive 500 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine to inoculate 250 million people by July 2021.
“For that, we are building capacities in human resources, training, supervision, etc, on a massive scale," the government minister said.