India's COVID-19 death toll crossed the 5,000-mark on Saturday and the case count reached 1.76 lakh after a record spike in numbers of new cases and fatalities, while the government said a phased exit would begin on June 1 from the months-long nationwide lockdown.
The Union Health Ministry said all precautions must be taken while "living with the new normal" of COVID-19 as it stressed on strict adherence to physical distancing and use of face covers at public places by everyone while also following personal and social hygiene standards.
"The management of COVID-19 is only possible when all the due care is taken by everyone without being complacent about the situation and by not taking the relaxations during the lockdown situation for granted," it added.
The exit plan came on a day when the country saw the nationwide tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases as well as the death toll rising by record numbers.
In its morning update, the Union Health Ministry said the number of confirmed cases has risen to 1,73,763, after 7,964 new cases were detected in the 24 hours since Friday 8am, while 265 more deaths were reported in the same period to take the toll to 4,971.
However, the recovery rate also improved further to over 47 per cent with more than 82,000 COVID-19 patients having been cured and discharged, leaving nearly 86,000 active cases across the country, the ministry said.
However, a PTI tally of figures announced by different states and union territories, as of 9.25pm showed a higher number of 1,76,792 confirmed cases and at least 5,100 deaths. It also showed nearly 86,000 recoveries and close to 85,700 active cases.
India is the ninth worst-hit nation by the COVID-19 pandemic. Globally, close to 60 lakh people have tested positive for the dreaded virus infection ever since it was first reported in China last December, while more than 3.65 lakh have lost their lives.
The US is the worst hit country with close to 17.5 lakh cases and over 1.02 lakh fatalities. The US also accounts for the maximum number of recoveries at over 4 lakh, while India ranks ninth for the number of recoveries as well.
However, India figures among the top five countries in terms of active cases, with the four worst affected being the US, Brazil, Russia and France. More than 36 lakh people have been tested so far in the country.
Within India, Maharashtra is the worst hit state, while Gujarat, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan are among other badly hit places.
Maharashtra reported 2,940 new cases and 99 deaths, taking the case count to 65,168 and the toll to 2,197. At the same time, 1,084 more COVID-19 patients recovered during the day, taking the total number of discharged patients to 28,081, the state health department said.
The national capital saw a record single-day spike of 1,163 fresh cases, taking its tally to over 18,000. Its death toll rose to 416, health authorities said.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, however, reassured the people that his government is several steps ahead of the novel coronavirus and is more than prepared to deal with it. He also said there cannot be a permanent lockdown and focus needs to be on minimising the number of deaths even if cases rise.
Gujarat reported 412 new cases, taking its tally to 16,356, while the state's death toll crossed the 1,000-mark after 27 patients succumbed to the pandemic.
In West Bengal, the number of confirmed cases climbed to 5,130 after 317 more people tested positive, while its death toll rose to 237.
Tamil Nadu witnessed its biggest one-day spike of 938 new cases, taking its tally to 21,184, while four men and two women died pushing the death toll to 160.
New cases were reported from several other places too, including in Karnataka, Ladakh, Nagaland, Uttarakhand, Assam, Puducherry, Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Manipur, Tripura, Rajasthan, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala.
While a nationwide lockdown has been in place since March 25, the number of cases have increased sharply this month and many states have attributed the rise to arrival of people from other states in special trains and buses for ferrying migrants and from abroad in special flights being run to bring back stranded Indians and expatriates in different countries.
The tally had crossed the one-lakh mark on May 18, also the day when the fourth phase of the lockdown began with several relaxations.
A group of experts said in a report sent to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the spike in COVID-19 cases could have been avoided if migrants were allowed to go to their native places before the lockdown was imposed.
The group, comprising of health experts from AIIMS, JNU and BHU among other institutions, said the returning migrants are now taking the infection to each and every corner of the country, mostly to rural and peri-urban areas, in districts which had minimal cases and have relatively weak public health systems.
The Union Health Ministry, however, said the doubling time of coronavirus cases in India has improved to 15.4 days from 13.3 days in the past three days. It also said that more than 11,000 patients were cured in 24 hours till Saturday 8 AM, the highest for a day.
The ministry further said testing capacity has increased in the country through 462 government laboratories and 200 private laboratories.