As India's COVID-19 fight entered its third phase on Monday with considerable relaxations in the lockdown curbs, the government said a record high number of 1,074 patients recovered from the deadly virus infection in the last 24 hours but cautioned that the restrictions can be reimposed if there is any complacency in following the containment and social distancing norms.
While the nationwide tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases crossed 44,000 with more than 1,400 deaths, the number of recoveries also neared the 12,000-mark, as per numbers announced by various states and union territories.
Kerala did not report a single new case for the second consecutive day, but neighbouring Tamil Nadu saw its tally rising by a record number of 527 new cases. Gujarat, Maharashtra and Delhi also reported significant rise in their numbers.
While several big urban centres across the country continued to report rise in the number of cases, several smaller states and union territories -- including Goa, Puducherry, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Meghalaya, Assam, Aruranchal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh, Manipur, Mizoram, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Tripura -- have witnessed nil or very few cases getting detected in the last few days.
The Union Health Ministry said around 27.5 per cent people have recovered so far from the disease, but cautioned that there was no place for complacency and what was required was a collective effort to keep the spread under check.
At a press briefing on the COVID-19 situation, Health Ministry's Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal said there is a need for rigorous implementation of the containment strategy while people also need to strictly adhere to hygiene as well as social distancing habits.
He said it has been observed that when social mobility is allowed during the fight against spread of infectious diseases, the transmission risk again arises and therefore it was important for everyone to follow the containment and social distancing norms.
Agarwal cautioned that if the virus spread is detected in areas that do not have any active cases for now, restrictions can be reimposed there.
"We are transitioning into a new normal and we need to be aware and vigilant... Everyone must strictly follow social distancing practices even outside the containment zones," he said.
In its 5 PM update, the Ministry said the COVID-19 death toll has risen to 1,389 and the total number of cases has climbed to 42,836, registering an increase of 83 deaths and a record jump of 2,573 cases in the last 24 hours. The number of active cases stood at 29,685, while 11,761 people have recovered and one patient has migrated, it said.
However, a PTI tally of numbers announced by different states and UTs till 10.15 PM put the total number of confirmed cases at 44,800 with at least 1,458 deaths. It also showed at least 11,881 recoveries.
To contain the coronavirus pandemic, which has cost more than 2.5 lives worldwide ever since its emergence in China last December, India had imposed a nationwide lockdown beginning March 25.
The first phase of the lockdown was for 21 days, but got extended by another 14 days till April 3, while the third phase has begun now for another two weeks but with considerable relaxations especially in relatively safer areas identified as "green" and "oranze zones". The higher-risk areas have been identified as "red" zones.
The government officials said the relaxations have been given in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's resolve for fighting COVID-19 while focussing on "jaan bhi, jahaan bhi" (lives as well as livelihood).
At a video-conference of NAM leaders on Monday, Modi called for a new template of globalisation post COVID-19, saying humanity is facing a major crisis.
Several exerts and independent organisations have said the pandemic and the lockdown will have a huge economic cost. Rating agency ICRA on Monday estimated that the country's GDP might contract by as much as 20 per cent in the June quarter and is expected to overcome some lost ground in the remainder of the year but still close the fiscal year 2020-21 down by up to 2 per cent.
Another rating agency CRISIL said the pandemic may cull about 10 per cent from the corporate revenue in India, while it may cause a permanent loss of 4 per cent for the country's GDP.
In the third phase, more categories of stores including of apparel and electrical goods, as also various kinds of repair centres, and even barber shops in some places, reopened in several parts of the country, liquor shops saw the biggest of the crowds and had to be closed at many places, including in the national capital, after social distancing norms appeared totally missing.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said whatever happened on Monday was not right and all have to follow the social distancing norms.
"It is sad that people were not following social distancing norms at some shops today. I request everyone to not take any risk," he said.
On the other hand, confusion prevailed in large industrial and business clusters across the country, including in Noida and Gurgaon on the outskirts of Delhi, on reopening of offices and industrial establishments due to lack of clarity on daily commute of their staff given continuing restrictions on major modes of the public transport.
Among big cities, Mumbai has reported the largest number of cases while several other major urban centres including Delhi, Ahmedabad, Indore and Chennai have also reported large numbers of cases.
From Mumbai's Dharavi slum, 42 more tested positive during the day to take its total tally to 632. Mumbai's overall tally reached 9,123 with 510 more people testing positive on Monday, while death toll also rose to 361.
Delhi saw 349 more people testing positive, pushing its tally to 4,898.
Gujarat reported 376 new cases and 29 more deaths -- the highest for a day -- to take its total tally of confirmed cases to more than 5,800 and fatalities to 319. Ahmedabad alone reported 259 new cases and a record number of 26 deaths on Monday, taking its tally of confirmed cases to above 4,000 and the death toll to 234.
Several other states including Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Odisha also reported a rising number of cases.
Amid reports that the peak of COVID-19 in India may happen in May-June period, the Health Ministry officials said the COVID-19 curve is relatively flat as of now and a collective effort may ensure that the peak does not come ever, but any failure in collectively containing the virus spread may result in spike in cases.
Officials also said the process of transporting stranded migrant labourers was being coordinated by states, though the central government guidelines have clearly stated that the infectious disease management requires everyone to stay where he or she is.
"Based on the request given from states for particular cases, permission was given to run special trains. Be it the government of India or the Railways, we have not talked about charging from workers. Eighty-five per cent of the transportation cost is borne by the Railways, while states have to bear 15 per cent of the cost," Agarwal told reporters.
Separately, the Union Home Ministry said the government will facilitate the return of Indians stranded abroad and the process will begin from May 7 in a phased manner. Only asymptomatic people would be allowed to travel and it would be arranged by aircraft and naval ships, and the facility will be available on a payment basis.
After their arrival in India, medical examinations will be conducted on everyone and they will be subsequently put under quarantine for 14 days, either in a hospital or in an institutional facility, the ministry said.