India recorded its highest singe-day spike of novel coronavirus cases on Saturday, with over 22,000 new cases and 442 deaths, as infections rose in the western and southern parts of the country during heavy monsoon rainfalls.
The western state of Maharashtra, home to the densely packed financial capital Mumbai, has the country's highest total, confirming 6,364 fresh COVID-19 cases on Saturday and 198 deaths.
India has now the fourth-most confirmed cases in the world following the United States, Brazil and Russia. The number of COVID-19 cases in India on Saturday reached 648,315 and the death toll rose to 18,655, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.
As a precautionary measure, officials in Mumbai warned residents to stay away from the coast, as heavy rainfall is forecast for the next 48 hours in Mumbai and adjoining suburbs. The high tide was expected to be over 4.5 meters on Saturday at 11:37, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) continued.
The monsoons typically cause waterlogging at low lying areas and along the coastal parts and could ruin the novel coronavirus lockdown efforts by causing a further rise in infection numbers, experts say.
In the southern state of Tamil Nadu, the second worst-hit state in India, the number of cases crossed 100,000.
India had imposed one of the world's harshest lockdowns in March to control the virus spread, but it has been eased in phases in recent weeks to restart economic activity. Epidemiologists warn that India's peak could still be weeks or months away, suggesting that the country's already severely overburdened healthcare system will come under further stress.
India's top health research body the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) is expected to launch its first COVID-19 vaccine by August 15 in partnership with Hyderabad-based vaccine manufacturing company Bharat Biotech International Limited (BBIL).
"BBIL is working expeditiously to meet the target, however, the final outcome will depend on the cooperation of all clinical trial sites involved in this project," a letter from ICMR's Director General Balram Bhargava to institutes said.
ICMR has selected a dozen institutes for clinical trials of the indigenous COVID-19 vaccine (BBV152 COVID vaccine). The institutes have been asked to step up the clinical trials as they are a "priority project" and must "meet the given timelines without any lapse."
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