India has allowed small local stores to reopen more than a month after the country went into lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The interior ministry said only half of staff should work and they had to follow precautions such as wearing face masks and observing social distancing.

However shopping malls must remain closed and businesses in coronavirus hotspots will also stay shut.

The move is part of Delhi’s attempt to gradually restart economic activity.

India has nearly 25,000 confirmed cases of the virus and 780 people have died.

All rural shops to reopen
Millions of Indian households depend on their local shops for their day-to-day groceries and other essentials.

All shops in rural areas except those in shopping malls were allowed to reopen from Saturday, as are stores in urban areas. However shops in markets are to remain closed.

However officials said alcohol stores had to remain closed and online shopping platforms could only be used to buy essential items, Indian media reported.

Economic hit from lockdown
India’s lockdown has seen domestic and international travel banned and factories, schools, offices and all shops other than those supplying essential services shut.

The abrupt halt to economic activity prompted an exodus from big cities as hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who had moved there to find work suddenly found they had way of supporting themselves.

Many began long journeys back to their home villages and towns in rural areas, often walking hundreds of miles.

In March India announced a $22bn (£19bn) bailout for the country’s poor to help counter the economic effects of the Covid-19 outbreak – but critics noted that this amounted to just 1% of India’s GDP – in stark contrast to the US and Singapore which spent about 10% of their GDP on similar packages.

Earlier this month the World Bank said the South Asia region faced its worst economic performance in 40 years because of the pandemic.

The effects would unravel decades of progress in the region’s battle against poverty, it said.

India, the biggest economy in South Asia, could see growth of just 1.5% in its financial year, down from a figure of around 5%, the World Bank predicted.