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Coronavirus

India's coronavirus infections cross 7 million ahead of festivals

Health workers in personal protective equipment collect swab samples from migrants who returned from their hometown at a railway station during a rapid antigen testing campaign for the COVID-19, on the outskirts of Mumbai, India.   © Reuters

MUMBAI (Reuters) -- India's coronavirus caseload topped 7 million on Sunday 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.

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.

Neighboring 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 somber 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 Oct. 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 on Sunday.

"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.

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