India reopens Taj Mahal as it races to become the worst-hit nation by COVID-19

The Taj Mahal reopened for visitors after a six-month closure, even as the pandemic has accelerated in recent weeks with India set to overtake the US to become the nation worst-hit by COVID-19.

India has recorded 5.4 million coronavirus cases, with approximately 100,000 new infections and more than 1,000 deaths recorded daily in the past several weeks.

On Monday, India reported 86,961 new infections and 1,130 deaths in the past 24 hours.

After having one of the strictest lockdown in March, that devastated millions of lives, the government is now reluctant to impose fresh curbs.

In recent months the government has eased restrictions, including on many train routes, domestic flights, markets, restaurants and now, visiting the Taj Mahal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The historic mausoleum built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in the city of Agra draws seven million visitors a year but had been closed since March.

The monument will reopen with strict physical distancing rules, and the daily number of visitors will be capped at 5,000.

The Taj Mahal earned a revenue of US$ 11.6 million in 2018-19.

Infection rate under-reported:

More than 64 million tests have been conducted so far, but the country still has one of the lowest testing rates in the world.

Epidemiologists suggest that India’s real infection rates are far higher.

Bhramar Mukherjee, a professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of Michigan who has been closely tracking the pandemic, says her models point to about 100 million infections in India now.

The government’s own antibody tests on a random sample of people nationwide estimate 6.4 million infections in early May, as compared to the recorded case count of 52,000 around that time.