Second COVID surge grips India on ‘people’s curfew’ anniversary

India reports 46,951 new cases, the highest single-day rise since early November, and 212 deaths, the most since early January.

People at a Sunday market in Jammu, Indian-administered Kashmir [Channi Anand/AP]

India has reported 46,951 new coronavirus cases, its worst single-day rise since early November, and 212 new COVID-19 deaths, the most since early January.

On Monday, total deaths in the country stood at 159,967 and infections at 11.65 million, the highest in the world after the United States and Brazil.

The grim figures came on the first anniversary of what Prime Minister Narendra Modi called a “Janta curfew” (people’s curfew), marking the start of a chaotic nationwide lockdown last year that left many people jobless and shrank the economy.

People wearing face masks in Bengaluru, the main city in the southern Karnataka state [Jagadeesh NV/EPA]

India’s richest and most industrialised state, Maharashtra, has reported 30,535 new coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours, forcing local authorities to reopen some quarantine centres. The centres had been closed after the national daily caseload began to decline after peaking at nearly 100,000 cases a day in September.

Maharashtra, home to India’s financial capital Mumbai, has been accounting for more than half of the country’s total cases after the full reopening of its economy unleashed a second wave of infections late last month.

Maharashtra recorded 99 COVID-19 deaths in the past 24 hours, a case fatality rate of 2.15 percent, notably higher than the national figure of about 1.5 percent.

Some hospitals in the country’s worst-affected state have begun to run short of beds.

Nearly a dozen other states, including Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka, home to the tech hub of Bengaluru, have also seen a spike in cases in the past few weeks.

Commuters queue to board a bus in Mumbai, one of the worst-hit Indian cities [Indranil Mukherjee/AFP]

In some parts of India, most people still go out without masks and flout advice on social distancing, including politicians campaigning in four states where elections will begin later this month.

The health ministry has also warned that a huge gathering of devotees for a Hindu festival could lead to a spike in cases as people from all over the country flock to the banks of the Ganges river in the holy northern town of Haridwar.

Local authorities have said they expect 150 million visitors at the weeks-long Mahakumbh that began this month and peaks in April. The festival is held only once every 12 years, and many Hindus believe bathing in the river during this period absolves people of sins.

The surge in cases has also brought into focus India’s low immunisation rate relative to its population, despite it being the world’s biggest maker of vaccines.

An Indian woman waits to get tested at a COVID-19 testing centre in Hyderabad [Mahesh Kumar A/AP]

India has administered more than 44 million doses since starting its vaccination campaign in mid-January but wants to cover 300 million – one-fifth of its 1.35 billion population – by August.

India has donated or sold more than 60 million vaccine doses to 76 countries, saying some shipments are necessary to meet contractual obligations.

As vaccine demand rises at home, top vaccine manufacturer the Serum Institute of India (SII) has delayed further shipments of the AstraZeneca shot to the United Kingdom, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Morocco.

Gripped by a second wave of infections, some states are seeking to accelerate the vaccination drive to include younger people.

Maharashtra has offered to make doses in the province to ease the supply pressure on SII and vaccine developer Bharat Biotech, whose COVAXIN shot is also being used in the country’s inoculation programme.

Source: News Agencies