A health worker takes a swab sample from a man for a Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction test along a road in New Delhi on May 27, 2021. Photo: AFP / Prakash Singh

Indian authorities Friday announced a “very very slow” easing of the lockdown in the capital New Delhi as coronavirus infections fall in major cities after weeks of lockdown.

Rural areas now, however, are seeing the brunt of a surge in cases that has overwhelmed the health care system and killed at least 160,000 people since the start of March.

Arvind Kejriwal, the Delhi chief minister, said that from Monday construction work and factories can resume, “keeping the poorest section of our society, the laborers and daily wage workers, in mind.” 

“We are starting the process of reopening very, very slowly. We will reassess it after a week based on experts and people’s opinions,” he said.

Daily infections reported across India have more than halved from more than 400,000 earlier this month, according to official statistics.

Delhi reported Friday about 1,100 new infections in the previous 24 hours, down from about 25,000 daily cases when the lockdown was announced six weeks earlier.

The devastating surge was blamed on new virus variants and the government having allowed most activity to return to normal including mass religious and political gatherings.

Coronavirus patients died in droves outside hospitals or at home because of a lack of beds, medical oxygen and drugs, prompting a flood of desperate pleas on social media.

Since mid-April hundreds of Covid-19 patients have also contracted the often deadly and usually very rare infection mucormycosis, or “black fungus.”

Many other parts of India including the states of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka too are now also considering easing restrictions on activity.

India’s vaccination program, meanwhile, is making only slow progress due to shortages, confusion and squabbling between the central government and state authorities.

So far some 160 million people, equivalent to only 12.5% of the Indian population have received one dose and 45 million, or 3.4%, two shots.