India announced a limited re-opening of its giant rail network beginning on Tuesday after a nearly seven-week lockdown, despite also reporting its biggest single-day jump in coronavirus cases.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has faced increasing calls to end his government’s stringent lockdown of the nation’s 1.3 billion population, with political parties, businesses and citizens saying the containment measures have destroyed the livelihoods of millions that rely on daily wages for sustenance.
The shutdown, which has been repeatedly extended to stave off a surge in infections, is in force until May 17. Ahead of that, though, the railway ministry said it would gradually restart passenger services with 15 trains from Tuesday, connecting Delhi to Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, Kolkata and other big cities.
“Thereafter, Indian Railways shall start more special services on new routes,” the government said in a statement. The rail network, among the world’s largest, carries over 20 million people each day and is the lifeline for people living in far flung corners of the country.
The announcement late on Sunday of the restart of some train service came on the same day India’s coronavirus infections jumped by 4,214, the most ever, to 67,152.
India’s rail, road, and air services were suspended in March to stop infections from spreading into the country’s interior, but the number of cases has kept rising each day. Officials say the spread of the disease would be worse if Modi’s stringent restrictions had not been put in place.
The number of people who have died from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, has reached 2,206, the ministry of health also said on Monday.
A fifth of India’s cases of coronavirus come from the densely populated cities of Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad and Pune, which are also major centres of economic activity.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said three-fourths of Delhi’s cases of coronavirus were asymptomatic or had mild symptoms and did not need hospital treatment.
India’s rising numbers of infections are also the result of increased testing, which has grown from 2,000 tests per day in late March, to 85,000 to 90,000 a day now, according to the Indian Council of Medical Research, the government’s top body leading the fight against the disease.
Modi was due to hold a meeting with state chief ministers later on Monday to determine a path out of the lockdown even as infections spread.
Passengers taking the trains that will start up on Tuesday will have to wear masks and undergo screening at the stations, a government official said.