NEW DELHI (AP) — India reported another record daily increase in coronavirus infections Thursday after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government faced scathing opposition criticism in Parliament over its handling of the pandemic and a contracting economy that has left millions jobless.
Confirmed cases jumped by 97,894 in the past 24 hours, raising India's total past 5.1 million, 0.36% of its nearly 1.4 billion people, the Health Ministry reported.
It also said 1,132 more people died in the past 24 hours, for a total of 83,198. India's fatalities are the third most in the world, but experts say India has undercounted the COVID-19 toll.
India's infection numbers are expected within weeks to pass the United States, where more than 6.6 million people have been infected.
On Wednesday, Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari became the second key minister after Home Minister Amit Shah to test positive. Shah was hospitalized for a second time this week due to COVID-19.
As Parliament resumed sittings after a gap of five months, Anand Sharma, Derek O’Brien and other opposition leaders criticized Modi for abruptly imposing a two-month lockdown across the country in March. They said Modi gave no time for state governments to prepare to handle the pandemic and prevent distress to millions of migrant workers who fled their places of work to return to their village homes.
Health Minister Harsh Vardhan defended the government decision and said the lockdown prevented up to 3 million additional cases and up to 78,000 deaths.
Nationwide, India is testing more than 1 million samples per day, a dramatic increase made possible by using a faster, cheaper, but less accurate testing method. On Wednesday, the New Delhi High Court ordered the government to increase RT-PCR tests, which look for the virus genetic code, because the antigen tests that look for viral proteins were only 60% accurate.
In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:
— New Zealand’s economy shrank by a record 12.2% in the second quarter due to a strict coronavirus lockdown, but forecasts indicate activity is bouncing back. The quarterly fall in GDP was by far the largest on record and signaled New Zealand was in recession for the first time in 11 years. Economists say the decline will likely be followed by a record increase in activity as many businesses get back to work. Forecasts released by the Treasury this week predict unemployment will peak at 7.8%, lower than earlier predictions of nearly 10%.
— Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has issued a public call for people not to gather for an anti-government rally this weekend, saying there is a risk of spreading the coronavirus. More than 10,000 people are expected to attend the protest to call for new elections, among other issues. Prayuth made the appeal Thursday in a televised speech about what he said was a second wave of infections sweeping through other countries. Thailand has been relatively successful in containing the disease. The Health Ministry on Thursday announced no new coronavirus cases, leaving the total at 3,490, including 58 deaths. “When you gather in mobs you are creating an enormous risk of new infections,” Prayuth said. “And with that, you also create enormous risk to the livelihoods of tens of millions of fellow Thais.” He said any big new surges of infections in Thailand “will lead to terrible consequences and even worse economic destruction, the likes of which we have never seen.” Prayuth said he respects the opinions of those with political grievances, but that restoring the economy battered by the coronavirus is a priority. There is no immediate sign that the protest will be canceled.