India Opens Vast Railway Network To Private Investment

Commuters wearing face masks wait on a platform to board a train at Pretoria Station as the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) resumes its operations on July 1, 2020. Phill Magakoe / AFP
PHOTO USED TO ILLUSTRATE STORY: Commuters wearing face masks wait on a platform to board a train at Pretoria Station as the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) resumes its operations on July 1, 2020.
Phill Magakoe / AFP

 

India has opened up its vast railway sector to private companies, allowing firms to operate trains on certain routes, in a bid to boost its stuttering, virus-hit economy.

The 167-year-old train network carries 20 million passengers daily but is plagued by deadly accidents, rickety infrastructure, lack of modern amenities and poor investment.

In an announcement late Wednesday, the railway ministry said it would now permit businesses to run trains along 109 routes, inviting bids from firms weeks after New Delhi opened up coal mining to the private sector.

“This is the first initiative of private investment for running passenger trains over Indian Railways network,” the ministry said in a statement.

“The objective of this initiative is to introduce modern technology rolling stock with reduced maintenance, reduced transit time, boost job creation, provide enhanced safety, provide world class travel experience to passengers,” it added.

The project will require an investment of $4 billion and private players will have to pay the government fixed haul charges and a percentage of profits determined during the bidding process.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to privatise a range of industries that have been under state control for decades, sparking criticism from the opposition Congress party.

“Now the government is in a desperate mood to sell a great chunk of one of our largest national asset #IndianRailways,” Congress politician Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury tweeted.

“Privatization cannot be construed as a panacea of railways malady”, he added.

The tottering network is notorious for accidents, with 15,000 passengers killed every year according to a 2012 government report that described the deaths as a “massacre”.

Asia’s third-largest economy has been clobbered by the pandemic and a months-long lockdown, growing at its slowest pace in at least two decades last quarter.

The shutdown, which put millions out of work overnight, is widely expected to plunge the country into recession.

Fears for the economy prompted the government to allow many businesses to resume operations starting last month despite an ongoing increase in infections, which have now crossed 600,000.

Even before Modi announced the lockdown in late March, the economy was struggling to gain traction with sluggish growth, record unemployment and a flurry of bad loans making banks reluctant to lend.

 

AFP

After Deadly Clash, India Bans 59 Chinese Mobile Apps Over ‘Security’

tik-tok
This illustration photo taken on June 29, 2020 shows a person using the video-sharing app TikTok on a smartphone in New Delhi.  Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP

 

 

India on Monday banned 59 Chinese mobile apps, including the wildly popular TikTok and WeChat, over national security and privacy concerns two weeks after a deadly Himalayan border clash between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

Relations between the world’s two most populous nations have been strained following the deaths of 20 Indian troops in hand-to-hand fighting with their Chinese counterparts on the western end of the high-altitude, contested border in mid-June.

The apps “are engaged in activities… prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order,” the Ministry of Information Technology said in a statement.

“The government of India has decided to disallow the usage of certain apps… This decision is a targeted move to ensure safety and sovereignty of Indian cyberspace.”

The statement said the move was taken after the ministry received several complaints alleging theft of users’ data and violations of user privacy.

It was unclear when the ban would come into force.

– Massive Indian user base –

Most of the applications are highly popular in India, including ByteDance-owned video-sharing apps TikTok and Helo, file-sharing app SHAREit and Alibaba’s UC browser and UC News, with a combined user base of more than half a billion.

There are estimated to be about 120 million TikTok users in India, making the South Asian nation of 1.3 billion people the app’s biggest international market.

Other apps on the banned list include microblogging app Weibo and strategy game Clash of Kings.

But anger has been brewing across India since the soldiers were killed in a brawl along the disputed border in northern Ladakh region on June 15 in the deadliest faceoff for almost half a century between the two countries.

It was the first time troops have been killed on their frontier since 1975. Beijing has not disclosed if there were any casualties among their troops.

India and China fought a war over the border in 1962.

New Delhi has accused China of intruding into its territory in the region, a charge Beijing has denied.

The June 15 violence took place around 4,500 metres (15,000 feet) above sea level in the Galwan river valley abutting Aksai Chin, a strategic corridor linking Tibet to western China.

Thousands of soldiers remain on alert, although both sides said they were trying to resolve the standoff through dialogue.

– Anti-China sentiment –

The deaths triggered massive outrage and street protests in India. There were calls for the banning of Chinese businesses, which export goods worth nearly $60 billion to India.

A senior minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government demanded a ban on Chinese food while a prominent trading union said it would boycott a range of commodities imported from China.

A hotel union last week said they would not allow Chinese guests to stay in their properties.

Millions of Indians downloaded “Remove China Apps”, a mobile application that helped users detect and delete Chinese software, before it was removed by Google from its Play Store.

Media reports said Chinese consignments were being held up by customs at major Indian ports.

Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi, however, which has a more than 30 percent share of the Indian market, is promoting itself as a company in line with the government’s “Make in India” slogan, an apparent move to counter anti-Chinese sentiments.

Chinese mobiles have an almost 65 percent share in the local smartphone market.

From toys, cosmetics, makeup and handbags to home appliances, pharma, auto components, and steel, China exports more than 3,000 products to India.

Beijing’s direct investments have soared from $1.6 billion in 2014 to at least $8 billion in 2017, while planned and current investments are forecast at $26 billion, according to US think-tank Brookings.

Chinese investors have also ploughed millions of dollars into major Indian start-ups including delivery app Zomato and payments app Paytm.

AFP

China, India Agree To Reduce Tensions After Deadly Clash

Activists of Gujarat’s Karni Sena organisation break a Chinese made televisions during an anti-China demonstration in Ahmedabad on June 24, 2020. – China and India have agreed to reduce tensions a week after their deadliest clashes in over 50 years on the disputed Himalayan border left 20 Indian troops dead in brutal hand-to-hand fighting. SAM PANTHAKY / AFP.

 

China and India have agreed to reduce tensions a week after their deadliest clashes in over 50 years on the disputed Himalayan border left 20 Indian troops dead in brutal hand-to-hand fighting.

The June 15 battle, reportedly fought with fists, clubs and rocks, was the first time troops have been killed on their frontier since 1975 and marked a major deterioration in ties between the two Asian giants.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that after talks between the top regional military commanders on Monday, both sides “agreed to take necessary measures to promote a cooling of the situation”.

The Press Trust of India said the meeting was between Lieutenant General Harinder Singh, commander of the 14 Corps, and Major General Liu Lin, commander of the Tibet Military District.

“The holding of this meeting shows that both sides want to deal with their disagreement, manage the situation and de-escalate the situation through dialogue and consultations,” Zhao told a regular news conference.

The two sides “exchanged frank and in-depth views” and “agreed to maintain dialogue and jointly committed to promoting peace and tranquillity in the border areas”, Zhao added.

There was no official comment from New Delhi but an Indian army source said that after the meeting, reportedly lasting almost 11 hours, that there was a “mutual consensus to disengage”.

He added that ways to reduce frictions in the Ladakh region opposite Tibet “were discussed and will be taken forward by both the sides”.

READ ALSO: COVID-19 Crisis Sinks Global Economy In 2020, Collapsing GDP 4.9% – IMF

The meeting came ahead of virtual talks between the foreign ministers of India, China and Russia later Tuesday, ostensibly to discuss the coronavirus and commemorate the end of World War II.

While Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar made no direct mention of the clashes in his opening remarks, Russia’s Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow saw no need to mediate between the two countries.

“I don’t think China or India need any help whatsoever,” Lavrov said.

Russia is a major supplier of arms to both countries.

The Times of India reported that Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, in Moscow this week, would press Russia to fast-track delivery of its S-400 missile defence system as well as spares for fighter planes, tanks and submarines.

– Boycott calls –

China has said it suffered casualties but has not given more details. Indian media reports suggested more than 40 Chinese soldiers were killed or seriously injured.

India has since sent huge reinforcements of soldiers, military equipment and fighter jets into the already highly militarised region. China is reportedly following suit.

In India there have been growing calls for a boycott of Chinese goods.

The clashes followed an earlier agreement to disengage struck in early June after weeks of rising tensions on the border, known as the Line of Actual Control, that included several brawls.

The June 15 violence took place around 4,500 metres (15,000 feet) above sea level in the Galwan river valley, where both sides accuse each other of encroaching on their respective territory.

China is claiming all of the valley as its own, which Indian analysts and officials say is a new demand. China now reportedly controls more of the northern shore of the Pangong Tso lake.

Harsh Pant from the Observer Research Foundation think-tank in New Delhi said he was sceptical that anything concrete had been resolved so far in the talks between the military commanders.

“Anything that the Chinese now say can’t be taken on face value. India, hopefully, has learnt its lessons now,” Pant told AFP.

“The episode has shaken Indian’s belief that a normal rational relationship with China is possible. And the power disparities are so huge that there is a degree of discomfort and suspicion in New Delhi,” he said.

AFP

India-Pakistan Diplomatic Row Worsens As Dozens Of Staff Are Expelled

Indian High Commission officials Dwimu Brahms (R) and Selvadhas Paul sit in a car after their release from the Pakistan authorities for the accusation of been involved in a hit-and-run incident, as they return to India at the India Pakistan Wagah Border Post about 35 km from Amritsar on June 22, 2020. NARINDER NANU / AFP

 

India told Pakistan on Tuesday to slash its embassy staff in New Delhi by half — saying it would do the same in Islamabad — as a diplomatic spat continued between the nuclear-armed rivals.

The fractious relationship between the neighbours has worsened since New Delhi expelled two Pakistan embassy officials over spying claims in late May.

After that, New Delhi accused Islamabad of torturing two Indian diplomats arrested following an alleged hit-and-run in the Pakistani capital.

The men returned to India on Monday, where they “provided graphic details of the barbaric treatment that they experienced”, the foreign ministry claimed.

“The behaviour of Pakistan and its officials is not in conformity with the Vienna Convention and bilateral agreements on the treatment of diplomatic and consular officials,” the ministry said in a statement.

“Therefore, the government of India has taken the decision to reduce the staff strength in the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi by 50 per cent.”

The ministry said it would also “reciprocally reduce its own presence in Islamabad to the same proportion”.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry said it “completely dismisses” allegations its staff in New Delhi had violated any diplomatic conventions.

“Pakistan also rejects the insinuations of intimidation of Indian High Commission officials in Islamabad,” a Pakistan ministry statement read.

“The Indian government’s smear campaign against Pakistan cannot obfuscate the illegal activities in which the Indian High Commission officials were found involved in,” the statement added — an apparent reference to a June 16 traffic incident in Islamabad that two Indian officials allegedly fled.

The Pakistan statement said it was Islamabad — and not New Delhi — that had ordered the reciprocal 50 per cent reduction to the Indian diplomatic presence in the Pakistan capital.

Both countries said the staffing cuts must be made within seven days.

The Pakistan high commission in New Delhi was allowed up to have up to 106 personnel, but in recent months Islamabad reduced staff levels to about 80, diplomatic sources told AFP.

Tensions were already high after India in August scrapped Muslim-majority region Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status and imposed a major security clampdown.

Kashmir was split between India and Pakistan in 1947 when they gained independence from Britain but is claimed by both.

Indian government forces have also been conducting numerous counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir since a nationwide virus lockdown was imposed in late March, killing dozens of alleged militants.

New Delhi regularly blames Islamabad for arming and training rebels before sending them across the border into Indian-administered Kashmir. Pakistan denies the charges.

AFP

Russia Welcomes China-India Contacts Aimed At De-escalation

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a meeting with his Iranian counterpart in Moscow on June 16, 2020. Handout / RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY / AFP.

 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday Moscow welcomed contacts between its close allies India and China after a deadly border confrontation.

President Vladimir Putin has close ties with both Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian premier Narendra Modi, who has talked of a “special chemistry” with the Russian strongman.

Lavrov said at a press conference that “it’s already been announced that military representatives of India and China have been in contact, they are discussing the situation, discussing measures for its de-escalation. We welcome that.”

China and India have traded blame for Monday’s high-altitude brawl that left at least 20 Indian soldiers dead, with China refusing to confirm so far whether there were any casualties on its side.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists: “Both China and India are very close partners for us, allies.”

“We are paying close attention to what is happening on the China-India border,” he said, calling reports on the clashes “very concerning.”

He said that Russia nonetheless believes China and India “are capable by themselves of taking steps so that such situations do not happen again… and so that this region is safe for the peoples of China and India.”

AFP

‘We Don’t Wish To See More Clashes’ On India Border – China

china-india
Indian Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers guard a highway leading towards Leh, bordering China, in Gagangir on June 17, 2020.  Tauseef MUSTAFA / AFP

 

China said Wednesday it wanted to avoid more clashes in a border dispute with India that resulted in the first deadly confrontation between the two nuclear powers in decades.

“We of course don’t wish to see more clashes,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a regular press conference, while urging India to avoid “provocative gestures” that could complicate the border situation.

More to follow…

India Says 20 Of Its Soldiers Killed In Border Clash With China

Two Chinese paramilitary police officers patrol outside the Indian embassy in Beijing on June 16, 2020. GREG BAKER / AFP
Two Chinese paramilitary police officers patrol outside the Indian embassy in Beijing on June 16, 2020. GREG BAKER / AFP

 

At least 20 Indian soldiers have been killed in a violent face-off with Chinese forces on the disputed Himalayan border, the Indian army said late Tuesday, the deadliest clash between the nuclear-armed neighbours in decades.

India had earlier said three of its troops were killed, but in a statement later Tuesday the army added that 17 more “who were critically injured (on Monday) in the line of duty at the stand-off location and exposed to sub-zero temperatures in the high altitude terrain have succumbed to their injuries, taking the total that were killed in action to 20”.

Delhi COVID-19 Fears Mount As Hospital Beds Run Out

This photo taken on June 11, 2020 shows a man (R) in an ambulance outside the COVID-19 coronavirus ward at the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash (LNJP) hospital in New Delhi. – Ashwani Jain succumbed to the coronavirus in an ambulance as his family pleaded with several hospitals to take him in, the latest victim of the pandemic sweeping through Delhi and exposing a deadly shortage of hospital beds. Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP.

 

Ashwani Jain succumbed to the coronavirus in an ambulance as his family pleaded with several hospitals to take him in, the latest victim of the pandemic sweeping through the Indian capital and exposing a deadly shortage of hospital beds.

“They don’t care whether we live or die,” said his 20-year-old daughter Kashish, whose uncle, Abhishek, sat with Ashwani in the back of the vehicle on its desperate journey across Delhi.

“It won’t matter to them but I have lost my father, he was the world to me,” she said, tears welling up as she showed a photo of him.

All of the hospitals the 45-year-old businessman’s family tried refused to admit Ashwani, even though an app set up by the city government indicated Covid-19 beds were free, Abhishek told AFP.

With surging infections highlighting the precarious state of the Indian healthcare system, the death of Jain and others like him have heightened anxiety in Delhi over the growing threat.

More than 1,200 have died from the virus in the Indian capital and more than 1,000 new cases are being reported each day.

READ ALSO: Second Wave Fears As China Reports More New Infections

Mortuaries are overflowing with bodies and cemeteries and crematorium staff say they cannot keep up with the backlog of victims. Some local Delhi councils say the real death toll is twice the number given by the regional government.

Indian media has been full of tragic stories of people dying after being turned away by hospitals.

One pregnant woman died as she was being shuttled between hospitals. A 78-year-old man petitioned the Delhi High Court for a ventilator bed but died before the matter could be taken up.

India has now recorded more than 300,000 coronavirus cases with nearly 9,000 fatalities.

– High price for rare beds –

Several families have used social media to recount their harrowing experiences after being refused hospital beds.

Jain’s family had joined a noisy, nationwide tribute to health workers, banging pots and pans from rooftops and balconies after a nationwide lockdown started in March. Now they feel abandoned.

“The government is doing nothing. They are just playing with our feelings,” Kashish said.

Jain’s devastated relatives are now waiting to get tested themselves but the Delhi government allows that for only high-risk and symptomatic family members.

The city government has estimated that it could need 80,000 beds by the end of July, and warned hotels and wedding venues that they are likely to be turned into hospitals.

Currently, government hospitals have 8,505 designated pandemic beds while private hospitals have 1,441.

But families say they are being forced to spend a small fortune for the few beds that are available.

Suman Gulati, whose father is a coronavirus patient, said she was asked for one million rupees ($13,200) by a private hospital for a bed.

“Once I paid the money getting a bed was not a problem. But arranging such a huge amount of money at such a critical time was,” she told AFP.

“What if I fall sick next, what will I do? Should I sell my property, my jewellery?”

A sting operation by the Mirror Now TV channel showed five Delhi hospitals asking coronavirus patients to pay up to $5,250 in order to be admitted.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has accused private hospitals of lying about available beds and promised tough action if they were found extorting money.

Experts are questioning the city’s handling of the pandemic however.

Virologist Shahid Jameel said Delhi, like other major cities, has not tested enough people. So far, it has covered just one percent of its population.

“At the moment Delhi government is doing everything to make people panic,” he told AFP.

“It should be testing aggressively. I don’t understand the logic of testing only people who are symptomatic. How will you find how much the infection has spread in the community if you don’t test them?”

AFP

269 Stranded Nigerians Arrive From India

This picture shows some of the stranded Nigerians who returned to the country recently. PHOTO: Twitter:@nidcom_gov

 

 

The Federal Government has continued to evacuate Nigerians trapped in countries around the world as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

This comes as a new set of 269 stranded Nigerians arrived in the country from India in the early hours of Saturday.

The Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) announced the arrival of the returnees on its Twitter handle.

According to the agency, 103 of the evacuees arrived in Lagos and 166 others landed in Abuja at about 2am, after a few hours of delay.

Following their arrival, the returnees were subjected to compulsory 14 days self-isolation, in line with the protocol by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19.

The NIDCOM stated that all the evacuees tested negative before boarding the plane and would be re-tested within 72 hours at a designated testing centre of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

They were brought back to Nigeria from India aboard an Air Peace plane which first landed at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja before proceeding to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos.

In another tweet, the NIDCOM Chairman, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, welcomed the returnees back to the country.

The management of Air Peace has also confirmed the airlifting of the evacuees in a statement.

India Reopens Despite Records Of COVID-19 Infections

People walk at the seafront after the government eased a lockdown imposed as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Mumbai on June 8, 2020. – Malls and temples re-opened in several cities across India on June 8 despite the country recording a record daily number of new coronavirus infections, with the pandemic expected to ravage the country for weeks to come. Punit PARANJPE / AFP.

 

Malls and temples opened across India on Monday after a 10-week lockdown, despite a record daily rise in new cases and predictions that the epidemic will worsen for weeks to come.

The government has risked easing restrictions in a bid to ease the devastating blow to the economy dealt by the coronavirus.

But the number of new cases rose by 9,983 to 256,611, according to government figures announced Monday, putting the country of 1.3 billion on course to quickly overtake Britain and Spain among nations with the highest number of infections.

The reported death toll of 7,135 is lower than other badly-hit countries, but India’s epidemic is only expected to peak in July. Many experts say the toll is higher.

In the capital, Delhi, shopping malls, restaurants, temples and mosques re-opened for the first time since March 25.

But highlighting the city’s reputation as one of India’s worst coronavirus hotspots, one day after announcing the reopening, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal went into isolation with virus symptoms including a fever.

– ‘Rough it out’ –

The worst traffic jams in many weeks were seen in the city of 20 million people. But the public response to being able to shop and pray was tentative. There was only a trickle of people at most places of worship.

Businessman Mohit Budhiraja, wearing a mask and carrying sanitiser, went to his local temple in eastern Delhi for the first time since the lockdown.

“It felt like something was missing when I couldn’t come to the temple for all these weeks,” he said. “I hope things improve, but now I will come every day.”

Many temples set up sanitisation tunnels at entrances and barred worshippers from bringing offerings.

READ ALSO: Lockdowns Averted Three Million Deaths In 11 European Nations – Study

“People are having their temperature tested twice before they get in,” said Ravindra Goel, a trustee of the Jhandewalan temple, one of the oldest in Delhi.

The 400-year-old Jama Masjid mosque, one of the biggest in India, planned only three prayers a day instead of the usual five for Muslims. Worshippers also had to bring their own prayer mats.

Shopping malls also imposed tight checks at entrances and social distancing in stores. Owners acknowledged they would have to wait to see normal business levels return.

“This will last for at least two months, we will just have to rough it out,” said Mahendra Singh, owner of a clothes franchise in one mall.

– Major hit –

Delhi accounts for more than 27,600 cases and 761 deaths — although media reports say the real figures are much higher. Shamika Ravi, an economics professor whose daily data analysis on the crisis is widely followed, said Delhi’s deaths have risen “alarmingly”.

The city government has ordered that hotels and banquet halls remain closed as they could be turned into hospitals.

Authorities have faced several complaints by relatives of people who have died before a hospital would accept them. Authorities say up to 15,000 extra beds could be needed by the end of the month.

“Citizens must be provided with real-time information on nearby testing labs, quarantine facilities, hospital bed availability,” said Ravi.

“Fear and panic can only be dispelled by honest communication.”

Mumbai accounts for around a fifth of India’s cases and hospitals have been overrun. Authorities have been more cautious about lifting restrictions. Roadside shops reopened, but malls, restaurants and hair salons remained shuttered.

The Indian government says the tough lockdown has limited the spread of the coronavirus. But it is now braced for a major hit to the economy, with millions of labourers now jobless.

Rating agencies have said the economy could contract by more than five percent this year, after average growth of about seven percent over the past decade.

AFP

India Evacuates 100,000 From Homes, COVID-19 Hospital Ahead Of Cyclone

Fishermen chat while they meet halfway on a pier as they offload crates towards inland ahead of a cyclonic storm that may hit the North Maharashtra and Gujarat coast, at the Madh fishing village, in the north western coast of Mumbai on June 2, 2020.  INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / AFP
Fishermen chat while they meet halfway on a pier as they offload crates towards inland ahead of a cyclonic storm that may hit the North Maharashtra and Gujarat coast, at the Madh fishing village, in the north-western coast of Mumbai on June 2, 2020. INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / AFP

 

At least 100,000 people, including some coronavirus patients, were being moved to safer locations according to officials Tuesday, as India’s west coast braced for a cyclone, the first such storm to threaten Mumbai in more than 70 years.

Authorities in India’s financial capital, which is struggling to contain the pandemic, evacuated nearly 150 COVID-19 patients from a recently built field hospital to a facility with a concrete roof as a precautionary measure, officials said.

The chief minister of Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital, said people living in flimsy homes near the shore were being moved to safer places before Cyclone Nisarga makes its scheduled landfall on Wednesday afternoon or evening.

“Slum-dwellers… in low-lying areas have been instructed to evacuate,” Uddhav Thackeray said in a message posted by his office on Twitter.

In Maharashtra’s Palghar district, more than 21,000 villagers were being evacuated, local media reported, citing officials.

Mumbai has rarely faced the brunt of cyclones — the last severe storm to hit the city struck in 1948, killing 12 people and injuring more than 100.

Indian meteorologists have warned of heavy rainfall — with winds of 100-110 kilometres (60-70 miles) per hour and gusts of up to 120 kph — causing damage to thatched huts, power lines and one to two-metre-high (three to 6.5 feet) storm surges inundating low-lying areas of Maharashtra.

Nisarga is also expected to hit neighbouring Gujarat state, with nearly 79,000 people to be evacuated from coastal regions by early Wednesday, Gujarat relief commissioner Harshad Patel told reporters.

Patel said 18 districts across the state would experience heavy rainfall and strong winds of up to 110 kilometres per hour.

“In wake of the coronavirus outbreak, all standard operating procedures are being followed at the temporary shelters which have been sanitised and instructions have been issued on following safe distancing,” Arpit Sagar, an official in Valsad, told AFP.

Nisarga comes on the heels of Cyclone Amphan, which killed more than 100 people as it ravaged eastern India and Bangladesh last month, flattening villages, destroying farms and leaving millions without electricity.

India Announces Major Easing Of COVID-19 Lockdown

Stranded migrant labourers walk to an assembling centre to get transferred to a railway station to board on a special train to Bihar after the government eased a nationwide lockdown imposed as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Chennai on May 30, 2020. Arun SANKAR / AFP
Stranded migrant labourers walk to an assembling centre to get transferred to a railway station to board on a special train to Bihar after the government eased a nationwide lockdown imposed as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Chennai on May 30, 2020.
Arun SANKAR / AFP

 

India said Saturday it would begin a major relaxation of the world’s biggest coronavirus lockdown from early June, even as the country saw another record rise in confirmed infections.

Efforts to contain the disease saw the shutdown of virtually all economic activity in late March, putting hundreds of millions out of work almost overnight.

Millions of migrant workers fled home to their villages, many of them walking hundreds of kilometres and some dying on the way.

Prime Minister Narenda Modi conceded that much of the country had since “undergone tremendous suffering” in an open letter to the public on Saturday.

The end of the lockdown will be staged and for now will not include some “containment zones” where high infection rates have been detected, according to the home ministry.

But elsewhere, places of religious worship, hotels, restaurants and shopping malls will be allowed to reopen as normal from June 8.

Schools and universities will resume classes after discussions with Indian state authorities, with a decision due in July.

The ministry said that international air travel, mass transit, cinemas, swimming pools and bars will remain closed for the time being.

Sport is still on hold, with the lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament yet to resume after it was postponed last month, and political and religious events with “large congregations”.

The nationwide evening curfew was also eased and will now begin two hours later at 9:00 pm.

No movement in or out of containment zones will be allowed, with exceptions for medical emergencies and the supply of essential goods and services.

In these areas there will be “intensive contact tracing, house-to-house surveillance and other clinical interventions,” the ministry said.

The home ministry’s announcement came even after the world’s second-most populous country announced a fresh record in the number of confirmed COVID-19 infections, taking the total to almost 175,000 cases with nearly 5,000 deaths.

Massive slowdown

Government data released Friday gave an indication of the preliminary toll of the lockdown on Asia’s third-biggest economy, which grew at its slowest pace in at least two decades last quarter.

The period included only the very beginning of the national quarantine, and analysts say a massive slowdown has taken place since.

Modi’s government had already taken some steps to ease the economic pain of the lockdown.

Factory and farm operations were allowed to resume in areas with no or few cases — although many are finding problems sourcing workers.

Domestic flights also resumed earlier this month and some trains are running on India’s vast rail network.

Earlier this month Modi announced a $266 billion package -– 10 percent of the country’s GDP –- to revive the battered economy.