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India's tech hub, other towns back in lockdown amid COVID-19 surge

BENGALURU/MUMBAI (Reuters) - India’s high-tech hub of Bengaluru will go back into a coronavirus lockdown for a week on Tuesday after a surge of infections, threatening to derail government efforts to revive a stuttering economy.

Employees walk in front of a building dubbed the "washing machine", a well-known landmark built by Infosys at the Electronics City IT district in Bangalore, February 28, 2012. Picture taken on February 28, 2012. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash

Places of worship, public transport, government offices and most shops will close again from the evening, and people will be confined to their homes, only allowed out for essential needs.

Schools, colleges and restaurants will remain shut, authorities said.

Bengaluru, home to some of the world's biggest IT firms such as Infosys INFY.NS, had only about 1,000 coronavirus cases in mid-June and was seen to have fared better than other parts of India in terms of testing and contact tracing.

But infections had grown to nearly 20,000 by Monday, something health experts blamed on the lifting of restrictions in June when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, worried about the economy, ended a nationwide lockdown that had thrown millions of people out of work.

Bengaluru began seeing a surge in infections from late June as both testing and the movement of people picked up, Hephsiba Korlapati, a senior official in the city’s COVID-19 response team, told Reuters.

In all, India has 906,752 cases of the novel coronavirus with 28,498 new infections reported on Tuesday, according to data from the federal health ministry, the third highest total in the world behind Brazil and the United States.

While cases in the main cities of Mumbai and Delhi account for most of the tally, infections are picking up in smaller cities, forcing authorities to re-impose curbs.

The western city of Pune, which is also an industrial and tech hub, began a 10-day shutdown on Monday while cities as far flung as Shillong in the remote northeast to Srinagar, the main city of Kashmir in the far north, imposed new curbs on movements to contain the virus.

Jitendra Singh, a junior union minister in charge of the prime minister’s office, quarantined himself on Tuesday after Ravinder Raina, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) president in Jammu and Kashmir, tested positive for COVID.

Singh visited the region with Raina and several members of the BJP after a party worker was killed last week by militants.

Twenty-four BJP workers also tested positive in Patna, capital of the eastern state of Bihar, according to its chief minister, who imposed a 16-day strict lockdown in the state.

The curbs raised questions about prospects for India’s growth, according to Japan’s biggest brokerage and investment bank Nomura.

“We also find growing evidence that after the initial normalisation in activity, mobility trends have started to plateau and fall lately,” Nomura said in a note.

“This implies that growth could remain below pre-pandemic peaks for a prolonged period of time.”

Reporting by Abhirup Roy and Sachin Ravikumar; Additional reporting by Rajendra Jadhav; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Robert Birsel

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