India posts record jump in COVID-19 cases, Modi says 'long battle' ahead

A volunteer wearing a protective suit checks the body temperature of homeless people standing in queue to get free lunch packets on the roadside after the goverment eased a lockdown as measure against COVID-19, New Delhi, May 30, 2020. (AFP Photo)

reported a record daily jump of 7,964 new COVID-19 infections on Saturday, with a recent surge in cases as restrictions start to ease raising the possibility that Prime Minister Narendra Modi could extend curbs beyond May 31.

In an open letter marking one year into his second term, Modi appealed to the country's population of 1.3 billion to follow all lockdown rules to stop the spread of the pandemic.

The prime minister said there was a "long battle" ahead against the novel that causes COVID-19.

"Our country (is) besieged with problems amidst a vast population and limited resources," Modi said, adding that labourers and migrant workers had "undergone tremendous suffering" due to restrictions.

The government could extend the lockdown beyond May 31, a home ministry official said on Saturday. The home ministry did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.

India has recorded a total of 173,763 COVID-19 cases and 4,971 deaths, making it the ninth most-affected country globally, Reuters data showed.

While fatality rates in India have been lower than in worse-hit countries, experts warned that its peak has not been reached due to mounting cases of new infections.

Officials are also nervous about the pandemic spreading through villages as millions of jobless migrant workers return home from cities.

Rights activists and the opposition have criticised Modi's handling of the pandemic, accusing him of announcing an abrupt lockdown that left the poor in the lurch and forced thousands to walk or jostle for space on buses and special trains to reach home amid the fear of getting infected.

Over 100 migrant workers have died either in accidents or due to starvation as they desperately tried to head back to their villages, the home ministry official said.

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