A waiter wearing a face mask works at the Indian Coffee House after the establishment reopened Kolkata on July 2. Photo: Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP

India is poised to have the third-highest number of Covid-19 cases as the figure reached 600,000, behind the US and Brazil but displacing Russia where cases are rising at a slower rate.

India added the latest 100,000 cases in just five days, its fastest rate ever, increasing concern among authorities and prompting knee-jerk reactions from states.

Most cases have come from urban areas of the most industrialized Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Delhi, and Gujarat. Of India’s total 604,641, the state of Maharashtra had 180,298 cases, Tamil Nadu 94,049, Delhi 89,802 and Gujarat 33,232. The four states account for about 14,000 deaths, or almost 80% of the 17,834 deaths across the country.

After Delhi, commercial capital Mumbai follows with 79,145 cases and 4,631 deaths. The Mumbai Metropolitan Region that includes nine other municipalities accounts for 123,375 cases, or 68% of the state’s total.

This explains the reasons for the state coming down hard on cutting off community transmission. For instance, Mumbai has imposed a Rs 1000 penalty for not wearing a mask in public, and has severely restricted movement of residents of 5,831 buildings in 750 hotspots. It also requisitioned all private ambulances to ensure Covid-19 patients don’t get stranded.

Maharashtra has declared a 10-day total lockdown in seven of the nine municipalities next to Mumbai, beginning Thursday. The areas include extended suburbs of Mumbai with frequent heavy movement of workers, goods and business-related physical interactions.

A key hotspot is the wholesale vegetable market known as Agricultural Produce Market Committee, which receives vegetables, fruit, and dried fruit from farms in the state and beyond. The market has 8,748 outlets for wholesalers to store and supply to Mumbai and its suburbs.

On a typical day, the market is teeming with scores of thousands of jostling buyers disregarding social distancing. For most farmers and traders, chewing tobacco and spitting is a way of life which is giving authorities sleepless nights. The market had been forced shut after an initial spurt in cases.

But the market is also crucial for supplying basic necessities to residents of Mumbai, and hence was reopened under strict conditions. As the number of cases from here spurted, spreading across workers and traders and through them to residential areas, the authorities had no option but to impose the clampdown.

In Mumbai city, residents interpreted news of easing of restriction as total freedom. Prime Minister Modi cautioned that carelessness could wash away three months of hard work.

Popular promenades were filled with morning walkers and highways were jammed with cars and motorcycles. Police impounded 23,000 vehicles over two days. Residents are now restricted to driving within 2 kilometers of their residence if it is not a medical emergency or to work.

However, the national capital Delhi gave reason to smile after a coordinated action by the central and state governments. Contrary to the chief minister’s prediction of 100,000 Covid-19 cases by June 30, the number of active cases is about 26,000.

Delhi is conducting a door-to-door survey of every household to be completed by July 6. The survey would collect details of residents, travel history and health symptoms to contain spread of the virus.

Also, the capital today opened a Plasma Bank to collect blood plasma from patients who recover from the virus. Oxygen levels of Covid patients fall and breathing difficulty increases. The injection of plasma of a recovered patient helps the recipient recover more quickly.

Kerala, Assam and Punjab states too are working to set up Plasma Banks to help reduce deaths.

Following rapid jumps in infections, Tamil Nadu, which imposed a 12-day total lockdown in Chennai and neighboring Chengalpattu, Thiruvallur and Kancheepuram districts until June 30, extended it to July 5. The state too is under a general lockdown until July 31 like many other states.

Bangalore, capital of Karnataka, too recorded the single biggest jump by 735 cases. The city is home to India’s Silicon Valley with headquarters of top software developers such as Infosys Ltd, Wipro Ltd, Tata Elxsi Ltd, Mphasis and Accenture Services.

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