UPDATE 1-India's Worst-hit Maharashtra Eases COVID Curbs as Infections Abate

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(Updates with detail)

By Shilpa Jamkhandikar and Neha Arora

MUMBAI, Aug 3 (Reuters) - India's industrial hub of Maharashtra state eased COVID-19 restrictions in most districts on Tuesday, including in the financial capital of Mumbai, after a steady decline in new cases.

Shops, malls and parks were allowed to open for longer and offices were allowed to operate at full capacity. However, cinemas, schools and places of worship will remain closed, according to a state government notice late on Monday.

Maharashtra has been the worst-affected state in India's COVID outbreak, accounting for more than 6 million of the 31.7 million cases.

At the peak of a second wave of infections driven by the Delta variant of the virus in April and May, state authorities imposed restrictions on movements and only let essential shops open.

But as cases have declined in recent weeks, there has been pressure on authorities to ease the restrictions.

Mumbai's suburban train network, that ferries more than 8 million people a day, remained shut as fears of a new outbreak loomed.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has warned states not to open up too fast and to watch out for overcrowding.

India reported 30,549 new cases of the coronavirus in the past 24 hours, the government said in a statement on Tuesday, the lowest in two weeks, but many health experts are wary about new surges with the vaccination rate still low.

"Our models currently predict that the infections are now likely to be rising again with a small bump, and not a towering peak towards the end of this month," Bhramar Mukherjee, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan, was quoted as saying by the online news publication the Print.

"But the more prominent third wave peak appears to be on the horizon some time around November," Mukherjee said.

India has been the second-most hard-hit country in the world with its 31.7 million coronavirus infections, trailing only the United States. India has had 425,195 deaths.

(Reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar in Mumbai and Neha Arora in Delhi. Additional reporting by Rajendra Jadhav in Satara; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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