NEW DELHI – India on Thursday reported 86,821 new coronaviruses cases and another 1,181 fatalities, making September its worst month of the pandemic.
The Health Ministry's update for the past 24 hours raised India’s total to more than 6.3 million people infected and 98,678 dead from COVID-19. India added 41% of its confirmed cases and 34% of fatalities in September alone.
India is expected to become the pandemic’s worst-hit country within weeks, surpassing the United States, where more than 7.2 million people have been infected.
The government announced further easing of restrictions to start Oct. 15. Cinemas, theaters and multiplexes can open with up to 50% of seating capacity, and swimming pools can also be used by athletes in training.
The government also said India's 28 states can decide on reopening of schools and coaching institutions gradually after Oct. 15. However, the students will have the option of attending online classes.
International commercial flights will remain suspended until Oct. 31. However, evacuation flights will continue to and from the United States, Britain, Australia, Canada, France, Japan and several other countries.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed the world’s stringent lockdown across the country late March, but started easing restrictions after two months to revive the severely-hit economy that contracted an unprecedented 24% in the April-June quarter. The lockdown cost more than 10 million impoverished migrant workers their jobs in the cities.
In other developments around the Asia-Pacific region:
— Tens of millions of Chinese are traveling during the combined National Day and Mid-Autumn festival, amid continued masking and other safety requirements aimed at preventing any new virus outbreaks in a country that has seen no cases of local transmission in more than a month. Fewer trips are expected, however, out of concern restrictions could be reimposed if new outbreaks occurred. In Beijing, students and teachers were advised not to leave the city to ensure classes resume smoothly after the break. Partly to compensate, movie theaters and tourist attractions in the capital were being allowed to operate at 75% capacity. China has the world’s second-largest box office and movie-going is a major holiday activity.
— Singapore will allow entry to travelers from Vietnam and Australia, excluding its coronavirus hot spot Victoria state, from Oct. 8. The tiny city-state last month welcomed visitors from Brunei and New Zealand, and is cautiously reopening its borders after a virus closure to help revive its airport, a key regional aviation hub. The aviation authority has said there is a low risk of virus importation from the two countries. Travelers must undergo a virus swab test upon arrival, travel on direct flights without transit and download a mobile app for contact tracing. Singapore’s move is not reciprocated by the other four countries. But Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said in a Facebook post Wednesday that “with each step of safe opening of our borders, we start to rebuild the bridges and resuscitate Changi Airport.” Singapore has managed to control the pandemic after an earlier upsurge due to infections among foreign workers living in packed dormitories. It has confirmed more than 57,000 cases of infection with 27 deaths from COVID-19.
— South Korea reported 77 new cases of coronavirus infections as officials called for vigilance around one of the biggest national holidays. The figures released by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency brought the national caseload to 23,889, including 415 deaths. Health Minister Park Neung-hoo has pleaded for people to stay home during the Chuseok harvest holiday that continues through the weekend, calling it a critical period may determine whether or not the country sees a major outbreak in autumn.