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India reports more than 78K COVID-19 cases; extends travel ban

People are seen weaking face masks as they ride on a busy road in Amritsar, India on August 21. Photo by Raminder Pal Singh/EPA-EFE
People are seen weaking face masks as they ride on a busy road in Amritsar, India on August 21. Photo by Raminder Pal Singh/EPA-EFE

Aug. 31 (UPI) -- India reported more than 78,500 cases of the coronavirus for the second day in a row on Monday, forcing it to extend a suspension on international commercial air travel until the end of September as the world's second-most populous country struggles to contain COVID-19.

India's Office of the Director General of Civil Aviation announced the extension to the air travel suspension that was instituted in March, stating it will not affect international cargo operations.

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The statement explained some scheduled flights may continue on a case by case basis as India has inked deals with several countries, including the United States, Britain, France and Germany, to create so-called bubbles to allow for international travel, The Times of India reported.

The suspension, which will last until at least Sept. 30, was announced hours after the Ministry of Health reported 78,512 new cases of COVID-19.

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The new daily figure for the country with 1.3 billion people was the most reported by any nation on Monday and came a day after it set a world record for most cases reported by a country in a 24-hour period with 78,761. The previous record had been 77,255 set by the United States on July 16.

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India's Monday tally is a continuation of an exponential growth in cases it has been facing since its first infections were diagnosed in late January.

Kumar Sanjay Krishna, chief secretary of the hard-hit northeastern state of Assam, gave three reasons for the climbing figures: increasing testing, reopening of the economy and complacency.

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"It has been noticed that people are not following precautionary steps and are violating the COVID protocols," he said on Twitter, warning that there will be "visible strict action" taken against those who violate social distancing guidelines or fail to wear masks in public starting from Monday.

"We request citizens to follow COVID-19 protocols, otherwise strict action will be taken against violators," the Assam Police Department confirmed in a statement.

The Ministry of Health explained in a statement that 70% of the new cases were from the seven states of Maharashtra at 21%, Andhra Pradesh at 13.5%, Karnataka at 11.27%, Tamil Nadu at 8.27%, Uttar Pradesh at 8.27% and West Bengal and Odisha each responsible for nearly 4%.

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The new figures increase its total infections to 3.62 million and push it toward surpassing Brazil for second in the world in cases. The South American country quickly climbed the rankings over the past few months to second where it sits with 3.82 million infections, but Brazil has been experiencing a ragged decline in daily cases since the end of July and India may soon jump it.

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The United States sits in first with nearly 6 million infections.

India's Ministry of Health said 43% of all cases were from the three states of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

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Those three states were also responsible for 50% of the 971 deaths, the ministry said, as the new figures increased its pandemic death toll to 64,469 -- which is also third worldwide behind Brazil and the United States.

Russia, which sits fourth in the world in infections, reported 4,993 new infections on Monday, lifting its total 995,319.

Though the country has experienced a consistent gradual decline since peaking at more than 11,000 daily cases in May, Monday's figure continues a daily increase in that began on Aug. 26, when it recorded its lowest caseload since mid-April amid skyrocketing infections, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Those four countries accounted for roughly 58% of the more than 25 million cases reported worldwide since the first infection was diagnosed in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late December before spreading the globe over.

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