India surpasses 2 million cases as health volunteers strike

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A child grimaces as a health worker takes a nasal swab sample for COVID- 19 testing through rapid antigen methodology, in New Delhi, India , Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. As India hit another grim milestone in the coronavirus pandemic on Friday, crossing 2 million cases and more than 41,000 deaths, community health volunteers went on strike complaining they were ill-equipped to respond to the wave of infection in rural areas. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

NEW DELHI – As India hit another grim milestone in the coronavirus pandemic on Friday, crossing 2 million confirmed cases and more than 41,000 deaths, community health volunteers went on strike complaining they were ill-equipped to respond to the wave of infection in rural areas.

Even as India has maintained comparatively low mortality rates, the disease has spread widely across the country, with the burden shifting in recent weeks from cities with robust health systems to rural areas, where resources are scarce or nonexistent.

The Health Ministry reported 62,538 cases in the past 24 hours, raising the nation’s confirmed total to 2,027,074. It said 886 more people had died, for a total of 41,585.

But the ministry said that recoveries were growing. India has the third-highest caseload in the world after the United States and Brazil. It has the fifth-most deaths but its fatality rate of about 2% is far lower than the top two hardest-hit countries. The rate in the U.S. is 3.3%, and in Brazil 3.4%, Johns Hopkins University figures show.

The caseload in the country of 1.3 billion has quickly expanded since the government began lifting a monthslong lockdown hoping to jump-start a moribund economy. India is projecting an economic contraction in 2020.

Life cautiously returned to the streets of the capital of New Delhi and the financial hub Mumbai, which appear to have passed their peaks.

In Mayur Vihar, a neighborhood in east Delhi, shopkeeper and pharmacist Rajiv Singhal described the daily phone calls he received when he tested positive for COVID-19 from officials within the Delhi state government, the Delhi police and the federal government to check on his condition.

“Despite our huge population and rampant illiteracy, if we have only 2 million cases so far, it shows that the government has played a big role in reducing the spread,” he said.