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India extends lockdown in high-risk zones, to allow partial reopening elsewhere


By Neha Arora

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India extended its coronavirus lockdown until June 30 in high-risk zones but permitted restaurants, malls and religious buildings to reopen elsewhere from June 8 despite a record high number of cases detected nationwide on Saturday.

The home ministry ordered state governments and local authorities to identify "containment zones", or areas that should remain under lockdown, as they continue to report high number of infections.

The government allowed hospitality and retail sectors and places of worship to open from June 8 and expected authorities to ensure physical distancing rules and staggered business hours.

India reported a record daily jump of 7,964 new COVID-19 infections on Saturday and has so far recorded 173,763 positive cases and 4,971 deaths, making the world's second-most populous country ninth on the list of most infections, Reuters data showed.

Restrictions on international air travel and city train services have not been revoked but permission for intra-state travel was granted.

The federal government expected states to make a call on reopening schools and colleges in July.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to address the nation on Sunday as his government wrestles to contain the pandemic despite imposing the world's longest lockdown.

In an open letter marking one year into his second term, Modi urged people to follow the rules.

"Our country (is) besieged with problems amidst a vast population and limited resources," Modi said, adding that labourers and migrant workers had "undergone tremendous suffering" due to restrictions.

While fatality rates in India have been comparatively low, experts warned that the pandemic's peak has not been reached as new infections are increasing.

Officials are nervous about the pandemic spreading through villages as millions of jobless migrant workers return home from the cities.

State carrier Air India said it had to recall a plane heading to Moscow to bring home stranded citizens after a crew member tested positive for COVID-19.

(The refiled story fixes grammar in headline)

(Additional reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal, Aftab Ahmed; Editing by Rupam Jain, Tom Hogue and Nick Macfie)

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