Troops deployed in Indian state as coronavirus cases surge

Ahmedabad (India) (AFP) –


Hundreds of paramilitary forces have been deployed in coronavirus-hotspot Gujarat state as India on Friday faced a surge in the number of deaths and infections from the outbreak.

Official data show the deadly disease is taking a growing toll in the country of 1.3 billion people even as it begins to emerge from the world's largest lockdown.

India had 56,000 cases including 1,886 fatalities as of Friday, official figures showed. But experts fear limited testing and incomplete record keeping are masking the true scale of the health crisis.

The number of deaths has doubled to about 100 a day in the past two weeks, while the rate of infections is doubling about every 10 days, official data show. A week ago it was every 12 days.

But Health Minister Harsh Vardhan told AFP there was no uncontrolled "community transmission".

"India has surprised the world by handling the COVID-19 crisis in a more mature way than some of the most developed countries," Vardhan said.

"Given all the constraints, India has worked with speed, scale, determination and decisiveness."

While the known number of deaths is low compared with the United States and the worst-hit European nations, health specialists say India's pandemic curve may only peak in June or July.

The western state of Gujarat has become one of the most severe hotspots with about 6,500 cases.

Hundreds of paramilitaries began patrolling Ahmedabad, Surat and Vadodara cities on Friday to keep people off the streets in a bid to contain the spread of the virus.

Ahmedabad, with a population of more than 5.5 million people and 70 percent of the state's virus cases, has become one of India's hardest-hit cities along with Mumbai and New Delhi.

Many streets have been barricaded and most food stores are shuttered.

"Since many vegetable vendors and store owners have tested positive in the last few days, all shops, except milk stores and pharmacies, were ordered closed for at least one week," said Ahmedabad municipal commissioner Mukesh Kumar.

In preparation for a surge in the number of severe cases across India, more than 5,150 railway carriages have been parked at 215 stations in major cities to be used as coronavirus isolation wards. The first patients could begin to board next week.

The nationwide lockdown began March 25 and is due to end May 17.

Despite the growing toll, the Hindu nationalist government faces mounting pressure to further ease restrictions that have left millions of poor without jobs and decimated revenues for industry.