India's coronavirus caseload topped 7 million yesterday when the health ministry reported 74,383 new infections in the previous 24 hours, with a rise in infections in southern states offsetting a drop in western regions.
Deaths from Covid-19 rose by 918 in the last 24 hours to 108,334, the ministry said.
India added a million cases in just 13 days, according to a Reuters tally of government data, and it has the second-highest number of infections, behind the United States which is approaching the 8 million mark.
But experts say the true number may be much higher, with testing rates in the country of 1.3 billion people -- home to some of the planet's most crowded cities -- much lower than elsewhere in the world.
The southern state of Kerala, which won praise for its early handling of the coronavirus pandemic, on Saturday reported 11,755 new cases, the highest in the country.
Neighbouring Karnataka and its capital Bengaluru, where many software companies are based, has also been struggling to contain the spread of virus.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government, faced with a collapsing economy after imposing a tough lockdown to try to stem the spread of the virus in late March, is pushing ahead with a full opening of the country just before the festival season.
But India's festival season, which climaxes in October and November with the popular Hindu celebrations of Dussehra and Diwali, poses additional challenges, as officials try to dampen the usual large public celebrations and cross-country travel.
Typically the festival season brings a big increase in consumer spending, and the more sombre atmosphere this year will further dampen an economy that contracted by almost a quarter in the three months to June - the worst figure on record.
A few states such as Maharashtra and Gujarat in the west have put restrictions on gathering during the nine-day Navratri festival due to begin on October 17.
"Festival season is approaching. A little carelessness of people during festivals can worsen the situation," India's health minister Harsh Vardhan told his social media followers in a broadcast yesterday.
"There is no need to congregate in large numbers to prove your faith or your religion. If we do this we may be heading for a big trouble," Vardhan said.
Vardhan also said the market rollout of the much-anticipated 'Feluda' (named after director Satyajit Ray's iconic fictional sleuth Prodosh Mitter) Covid19 test kit was expected in the next few weeks. He said he cannot put an exact date for its availability.
Since the virus emerged in China late last year, it has killed more than one million worldwide, infected over 37 million and forced millions more out of work as the pandemic batters the global economy.
CHINA REPORTS NEW CASES
China reported 21 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus on Saturday, up from 15 the previous day, the national health authority said yesterday.
All the new cases were imported infections involving travellers from overseas, the National Health Commission said in a statement.
The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed, fell to 23 from 39 a day before. All of them were imported.
Yesterday, the city of Qingdao in eastern Shandong province reported three new asymptomatic cases, linked by experts to the Qingdao Chest Hospital, part of which is designated to receive imported infections, municipal officials said in a statement.
Governments across the globe are struggling to keep up with a sharp rise in infections and manage growing public frustration over new restrictions as the pandemic enters a second deadly wave.
England has reached a tipping point similar to the first wave of coronavirus but is still in a position to stop history repeating itself, the country's deputy chief medical officer has said.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said the best way to keep transmission low and stop the NHS being overwhelmed was for people with symptoms to self-isolate and get a test, and for people to wash their hands, wear face coverings and maintain social distancing.
Ireland on Saturday reported 1,012 new cases of Covid-19, the highest number in a day since the start of the pandemic and almost double the average for the past week.
S KOREA EASES CURBS
South Korea will relax some rules on social distancing from today, allowing nightspots to re-open and spectators to attend sports events, after new coronavirus cases edged lower in recent weeks, authorities said.
Daily infections have fallen largely into the double-digit range in the past two weeks, down from 440 during outbreaks at a church and a political rally in August that prompted clampdowns on gatherings and some businesses.
In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday burnished her leadership credentials on the back of her successful response to the pandemic at a campaign rally six days ahead of the country's election on October 17.
"While there was no playbook for Covid-19, we went hard and early and committed to a strategy of elimination which has meant that when we've had new cases, we've circled and stamped them out and opened up our economy faster than others," Ardern told a campaign rally in the capital Wellington.