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India coronavirus cases pass 8 million amid rising concerns over festival season

India’s total confirmed coronavirus cases passed eight million on Thursday, making it only the second country after the US to hit this landmark, and amid mounting concerns over the upcoming festival season and winter.

The country’s health ministry reported another 49,881 infections in the past 24 hours and 517 deaths, taking the total number of fatalities up to 120,527. 

The daily increase is considerably lower than it was at its peak earlier in September, when India recorded upwards of 90,000 cases in a single day. 

On Tuesday, India said its daily new infections dipped to the lowest level since 18 July, at  36,470. 

And the Indian health ministry has emphasised the number of people who have been infected and recovered from coronavirus, a total which rose by 56,480 on Thursday to reach more than 7.3m, the equivalent of almost 91 per cent of cases.

Experts have been warning that India’s festival season could propel it past the US, which has more than 8.8m infections currently. India has just celebrated Durga Pooja amid strict restrictions and another major Hindu festival, Diwali, is set to be celebrated on 14 November.

Despite rising cases, India has started edging towards normalcy with schools, public transport and shops opening up, theatres and restaurants functioning at a limited capacity and work resuming due to economic concerns. 

The country also held the first phase of a key state election on Wednesday amid social distancing concerns, and which is being seen as a referendum on the central government’s handling of the pandemic. India’s prime minister Narendra Modi announced an early and abrupt lockdown in March, which resulted in millions of stranded migrant workers walking sometimes hundreds of miles back to their hometowns and villages.

On Wednesday, India’s capital city Delhi reported 5,673 cases, its highest ever daily increase, taking its total Covid-19 case tally to 370,014. Delhi is also grappling with the crisis of winter air pollution, with its air quality index (AQI) falling into the “very poor” category throughout this week, in part due to the yearly phenomenon of stubble burning in nearby states.

Additional reporting by agencies

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