India reported almost 10,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, with hospitals swamped in the worst-hit cities of Mumbai, New Delhi and Chennai, and predictions that the infection rate will not peak before the end of next month.
The country of 1.3bn people now has the fifth highest number of confirmed cases in the world, at 286,579. Over the last 24 hours 357 people have died from the virus, bringing the official toll to 8,102.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said the situation globally was deteriorating, at a time when Europe appears to be over the worst of the pandemic. More than 100,000 new cases worldwide were reported each day for most of the last two weeks, WHO’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said.
Nearly 75% of these cases came from just 10 countries, including India, the rest of South Asia and the Americas, Tedros added. The US clocked up 2m positive tests while Russia passed the half a million figure. There was also a small but “steady increase” of infections in Africa, he said.
So far Africa has mostly avoided the kind of rampant outbreak seen in Europe and the US. Matshidiso Moeti, the UN health agency’s Africa regional director, said there were 207,617 cases across 54 countries and 5,642 deaths. Hotspots include South Africa, Algeria and Cameroon.
“Even though these cases in Africa account for less than 3% of the global total, it’s clear that the pandemic is accelerating,” Moeti said. “We believe that large numbers of severe cases and deaths are not being missed in Africa.”
It is India which appears poised for a calamitous jump in infections, especially in the financial capital Mumbai and the state of Maharashtra. After two months of lockdown the government of the prime minister, Narendra Modi, is pressing ahead with relaxation measures.
Restaurants, shopping malls and places of worship in much of India are reopening and travel is gradually restarting. The easing of restriction is driven by economic factors. Millions of migrant labourers thrown out of work by quarantine measures are unable to feed their families.
In New Delhi, the situation is particularly dire. The city government this week predicted the caseload will increase 20 times to more than half a million by the end of July. The health care system seems woefully ill-prepared and unequal to the multiplying problem.
“We don’t know when this is going to peak,” Dr Deven Juneja told AFP during a pause in his rounds at Delhi’s Max private hospital. “All of us are hoping for the best, but we are mentally and physically prepared for the worst.”
Juneja said the surge had started to be felt over the past few days, with an increase in the number of people looking for a bed. “That has definitely increased the load on us. We want to get our patients well as soon as possible and try to create more beds for our patients,” he said.
Vinita Thakur, a nurse in a Covid-19 ward, said wearing protective suits for long hours in the hot Indian summer required “physical and mental courage”. “After putting on the PPE we can’t drink water, can’t eat, can’t even go to the washroom,” Thakur said, adding: “But we have to do it. We are on the frontline.”
Meanwhile, in Germany, the number of active Covid-19 cases has gone up to 5,460 – the first rise in total cases in two months. On Thursday, health authorities announced 555 new infections. Some 8,755 people have died of the virus in Germany so far, a day-on-day rise of 26.
The uptick received relatively little attention as several of Germany’s 16 Länder, or federal states, took further steps towards relaxing physical distancing restrictions. In the eastern state of Thuringia, distancing measures will be scrapped altogether from Saturday, though the wearing of masks in shops and on public transport remains mandatory.
Elsewhere in Europe, Finland said it would reopen its borders to tourists from neighbouring Baltic and Nordic countries, excluding Sweden, from 15 June. Denmark and Norway have made a similar move and have kept Sweden out of their new travel arrangements because of its rate of infection.
Finnish borders are due to open to tourists from Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania from 15 June. Tourists from other EU countries may be able to visit after 14 July.
In other developments:
Latin America has passed 70,000 deaths, as Mexico hit a daily record for confirmed infections. Brazil, with the largest economy in the region, remains the region’s most affected country.
Cuba will test all visitors for coronavirus when it reopens to international tourism, which will be limited at first to the beach resorts at the keys of the Caribbean’s largest island, the prime minister, Manuel Marrero Cruz, has said.
New cases have spiked in the Balkans, leading officials in Bosnia, North Macedonia and Albania to appeal to citizens to respect public health advice. Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vučić, has scrapped campaign rallies ahead of parliamentary elections.
Beijing has confirmed a new coronavirus infection, the first Covid-19 case in the capital in nearly two months. The patient, a 52-year-old man, checked into a clinic on Wednesday due to a fever, according to the official party newspaper People’s Daily.