India’s confirmed coronavirus cases have crossed 10 million, though new infections dipped to their lowest levels in three months.
The grim milestone was reached as the country prepares for a massive COVID-19 vaccination rollout in the new year.
Additional cases in the past 24 hours dropped to 25,152 from a peak of nearly 100,000 in mid-September.
The epidemic has infected nearly one per cent of India’s more than 1.3 billion people, second only to the worst-hit United States.
The Health Ministry on Saturday also reported 347 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking total fatalities to 145,136.
Government health expert Randeep Guleria said India is keeping its fingers crossed as the cases tend to increase in winter months.
“If we can sustain our declining trend for the next two to three months, we should be able to start the vaccination program and start moving away from the pandemic,” Dr Guleria said.
India is home to some of the world’s biggest vaccine-makers and there are five vaccine candidates under different phases of trial in the country.
The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine-maker, is licensed to produce the Oxford University-AstraZeneca jab.
India’s Bharat Biotech vaccine also is a frontrunner, and the two vaccines are expected to get authorisation for emergency use within weeks, Dr Guleria said.
India aims to provide vaccines to 250 million people by July 2021. The government is planning to receive 450 million to 500 million doses, the Health Ministry said.
With millions becoming jobless, the Indian government is continuing to relax harsh lockdown restrictions that were imposed in late March.
A large number of offices, shops, businesses, liquor stores, bars and restaurants have reopened.
Restricted domestic and international evacuation flights are being operated along with train services. Schools remain closed.