India has said it would begin a major relaxation of the world’s biggest coronavirus lockdown from early June – but extended the lockdown until June 30 in high-risk zones.
The government will allow the hospitality and retail sectors and places of worship to open from June 8 and expected authorities to ensure physical distancing rules and staggered business hours, after the country continued to report a high number of new infections.
The home ministry ordered state governments and local authorities to identify “containment zones”, or areas that should remain under lockdown.
Schools and universities will resume classes after discussions with Indian state authorities, with a decision due in July.
The ministry said that international air travel, mass transit, cinemas, swimming pools and bars will remain closed for the time being.
Sport is still on hold, with the lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament yet to resume after it was postponed last month, along with political and religious events with “large congregations”.
Restrictions on international air travel and city train services have not been revoked but permission for intra-state travel was granted.
India reported a record daily jump of 7,964 new COVID-19 infections on Saturday and has so far recorded 174,301 positive cases and 4,981 deaths, making the world’s second-most populous country ninth on the list of most infections.
While fatality rates in India have been comparatively low, experts warned that the pandemic’s peak has not been reached as new infections are increasing.
State carrier Air India said it had to recall a plane heading to Moscow to bring home stranded citizens after a crew member tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to address the nation on Sunday as his government wrestles to contain the pandemic despite imposing the world’s longest lockdown.
In an open letter marking the first year of his government’s second term, Modi said India was on the path to victory in its battle against the virus. He said India will set “an example in economic revival” and asked the nation to show a “firm resolve”.
Modi also acknowledged the “tremendous suffering” of millions of migrant workers who had lost their jobs during the lockdown and have been forced to make gruelling and dangerous trips back to their hometowns.
At least nine migrant workers have died on trains in recent days while travelling back to their homes, officials and local media reported on Wednesday.
The deaths occurred on special trains organised by the Indian government to help transport stranded workers home.
Critics said there had been a shortage of food and water on the journeys, charges that Indian Railways and the government deny.
Earlier this month Modi announced a $266bn package – 10 percent of the country’s GDP – to revive the battered economy.