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Tentative restart for Indian trains even as virus cases surge

India imposed a strict shutdown in late March
India imposed a strict shutdown in late March Sajjad HUSSAIN AFP
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New Delhi (AFP)

India's enormous railway network was grinding back to life Tuesday in a gradual lifting of the world's biggest coronavirus lockdown, even as new cases surge.

The country imposed a strict shutdown in late March, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has credited with keeping cases to a relatively modest 70,000 with some 2,000 deaths.

Restrictions have been steadily eased and on Tuesday parts of India's passenger train network, which in normal times transports over 20 million people on 20,000 trains daily, were scheduled to resume.

Several tens of thousands of tickets for the initial 30 trains sold out online within three hours on Monday, reports said, with the first set to depart New Delhi at 4:00 pm (1030 GMT).

There have already been special train services taking back to their home states some of the millions of poor migrant workers left jobless and destitute by the shutdown.

The government did not set out a programme for when more services will resume.

- Cases rising -

Meanwhile, the number of cases continues to rise fast, with more than 3,600 new infections recorded on Monday, down slightly from Sunday's record of more than 4,000.

The western state of Maharashtra, home to Mumbai, reported more than 1,000 new cases for the sixth straight day while Tamil Nadu in the south recorded a record jump of 798.

Experts say that India has not been testing enough people and that with the country of 1.3 billion people home to some of the most crowded cities on the planet, it is woefully ill prepared for a major outbreak.

Health specialists say India's pandemic curve may only peak in June and July.

On Monday Modi held a teleconference with state chief ministers to discuss further relaxations of the lockdown when it ends on May 17.

"I am of the firm view that the measures needed in the first phase of the lockdown were not needed during the second phase, and similarly the measures needed in the third phase are not needed in the fourth," the Times of India quoted Modi as saying.

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