India now has more than 500,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, according to government figures released on Saturday showing a record jump of 18,500 new infections.
Authorities said a total of 15,685 people had died after another 385 deaths were taken to tolls within 24 hours.
The pandemic is not expected to peak in India for several more weeks and experts say the number of cases could pass one million by the end of July.
Some state governments are considering introducing new lockdowns. A hard-hitting nationwide lockdown that began March 25 is gradually eased due to the damage to the economy.
The virus has particularly hit India’s densely populated cities and there are now major concerns for New Delhi which has surpassed Mumbai by almost 80,000 cases.
The city government has predicted 500,000 infections by the end of July. It already uses rail cars to accommodate patients and has taken over hotels and banquets to relieve pressure on hard-pressed hospitals.
The government has been criticized for the lack of tests that experts say have hidden the real number of cases in India, which now stands at 509,000.
The country is currently fourth in the world for the number of infections, behind the US, Brazil and Russia, but it has a much lower death rate.
In an effort to increase tracking efforts, the Delhi authorities have called in 33,000 health care professionals to screen about two million people in sealed zones across the city of 20 million people.
But cities across the country with 1.3 billion people are supported by a huge wave of new cases in the coming weeks.
“It is likely that we will come to a state unless we can strengthen a strict physical distance mechanism or a hard lock, where the rate of infection will continue to increase,” says Anant Bhan, a leading public health expert.
“Unlike China, where the pandemic was relatively more concentrated around Wuhan and a few other cities, India has a more diffuse spread that makes it a little more challenging for the healthcare sector,” he told AFP.
Bhan said that India could see more peaks in the coming months as the spread of the virus “varies across the country”.