COVID-19 India
Motorists ride along a street during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus in New Delhi on May 5, 2020. Image Credit: AFP

New Delhi: India's coronavirus infections crossed the 100,000 mark and are escalating at the fastest pace in Asia, just as Prime Minister Narendra Modi further relaxed the country's nationwide lockdown to boost economic activities.

Infections in the South Asian nation of 1.3 billion people were at 100,328, including 3,156 deaths, as of Tuesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. As many as 5,242 new cases were added on Tuesday, according to the health ministry.

India is now among the nations worst hit by the epidemic, with a 28 per cent increase in cases since last week according to Bloomberg's Coronavirus Tracker. Neighbour and nuclear rival Pakistan has 42,125 cases including 903 deaths. Its cases increased by 19 per cent over the same period, the tracker showed.

"The challenges are huge, but a two-fold strategy would help reduce infections and flatten the curve," said Rajmohan Panda, additional professor at the Public Health Foundation of India, adding the rise in infections is expected with the opening of the economy. "The focus should now be prioritized in low income settlements, with an emphasis of sub district level containment measures."

Since Monday, states have further eased restrictions for industries, shops and offices and reopened public transport, while the lockdown in the worst affected areas of the country - including a ban on interstate and international air travel - has been extended until May 31. The government is hoping to ease the economic impact of the world's biggest lockdown, which has crippled business activity and left millions jobless.

Still, companies are facing difficulties reopening factories - primarily because of travel restrictions, conflicting rules, broken supply chains and a shortage of workers. The movement of millions of migrant workers from the cities where they had jobs to their homes in rural villages - and their reluctance to return - is one of the key challenges for the economy, which could be heading for its first full-year contraction in more than four decade.