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Migrants return to Delhi as India's COVID-19 deaths top 50,000

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MUMBAI/NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India’s COVID-19 deaths topped 50,000 on Monday, five months after the country reported its first such fatality, as migrant workers poured back into major cities in hopes of regaining work after the easing of anti-virus restrictions.

Hundreds of migrant workers from the countryside who had left the capital New Delhi in droves after losing their jobs in a nationwide lockdown in March returned in buses on Monday and were made to wait in lines for rapid COVID-19 tests.

Those who tested positive were sent to quarantine centres while the rest were allowed to leave the city’s busy inter-state bus terminus with their luggage. Almost all of them wore masks or covered their nose and mouth with scarves or handkerchiefs, though in the countryside such virus-fighting measures have become tough to enforce and the infection rate has surged.

The world’s second-most populous country, recorded 57,981 new coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours, lifting the total to 2.65 million, while an additional 941 deaths raised the overall death toll to 50,921.

India is only the third country, behind Brazil and the United States, to record more than 2 million infections, but it has a relatively low case fatality rate of 1.9%, compared to the world average of 3.5%.

India conducted more than 730,000 tests for COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, the state-run Indian Council for Medical Research said.

The government’s stated goal is to run 1 million tests a day, though experts say the rate is still too low for a sprawling country of 1.3 billion people. Fears are also rising about India’s heavy reliance on rapid antigen tests that have a high rate of false negatives.

India has been recording at least 50,000 new infections per day since July 30 as the disease has spread from major cities like Mumbai and Delhi into the impoverished hinterlands of densely populated states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar in Mumbai with additional reporting by Anuron Kumar Mitra in Bengaluru; Editing by Mark Heinrich