TOKYO -- India on Monday began a gradual lifting of its nationwide coronavirus lockdown by first allowing restaurants, hotels and shopping malls to reopen in a bid to boost an economy hard hit by deep declines in spending.
But with infections still rising in the country, there is concern that the easing measures could end up accelerating the number of COVID-19 cases in the nation home to 1.3 billion people.
"For the first time in three months, we can begin delivery and take-away," said Naren Singh, a 43-year-old employee of an Indian restaurant in the capital New Delhi. "I have not been paid for two months so I am delighted to work."
He added that the eatery will concentrate on ensuring good sanitation to get ready to accept dine-in customers.
India began the lockdown on March 25 and has extended it four times, the latest to June 30. But damage to the economy has been so great that the government came under pressure to ease it sooner. Shaktikanta Das, governor of the Reserve Bank of India, the central bank, has described the pandemic as a major blow to private consumption, which accounts for about 60% of domestic demand.
The easing will be carried out in three stages. After opening restaurants, hotels, shopping malls and religious buildings in the first stage, the government will consider resuming schools and international flights.
India has so far recorded 246,628 positive coronavirus cases as of Sunday, according to the World Health Organization. Newly reported cases have been increasing by nearly 10,000 a day, with no sign of a slowdown.
Mumbai, India's commercial capital and which has the largest number of infected cases, has yet to allow restaurants and malls to reopen.