India’s worst coronavirus-hit state of Maharashtra went into a weekend lockdown on Saturday as the country battles exploding infection numbers and vaccine shortages.
Having let its guard down with mass religious festivals, political rallies, and spectators at cricket matches, the world’s second-most populous nation has added more than one million new infections since late March.
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After a lockdown a year ago caused widespread misery and hit the economy badly, the central government is desperate to avoid a hugely unpopular second shutdown.
But many states are tightening the screw, in particular the epicentre Maharashtra and its capital Mumbai, where restaurants are shut and public gatherings of more than five people are banned.
Every weekend until the end of April the state’s 125 million people are now confined to their homes unless shopping for food, medicine or travelling.
“I’m not for the lockdown at all but I don’t think the government has any other choice,” media professional Neha Tyagi, 27, said in Mumbai.
“This lockdown could have been totally avoided if people would take the virus seriously.”
Cricket is now played behind closed doors – including the big-bucks Indian Premier League (IPL), which began on Friday – and in many states, including the national capital territory Delhi, a night curfew is in force.
Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh state, is under a 10-day lockdown with no one allowed to enter the area unless performing essential services.
— Sanjay Jog (@SanjayJog7) April 10, 2021
Short on stocks
India’s drive to vaccinate its 1.3 billion people also looks to be hitting problems, with just 94 million shots provided so far and stocks running low.
In megacity Mumbai, 25 out of 71 private hospitals administering jabs ran out of supplies on Thursday, city authorities said.
The situation at government-run inoculation centres was not much better, with a giant 1,000-bed field hospital turning away people arriving for their first dose on Friday.
City authorities tweeted the shortage was “due to non-receipt of stocks” from the national government.
The Times of India newspaper reported on Friday that states on average had just five days of stock left, according to health ministry data, with some regions already grappling with severe shortages.
But the central government has accused some states – run by opposition parties – of “distract[ing] attention from their failures” and playing politics.
“It is not right to say that there is a vaccine shortage. Vaccines have been made available to all states according to their needs,” Home Minister Amit Shah said.
The CEO of the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s biggest vaccine-maker by volume, has warned that production capacity is “very stressed”.
Poorer countries, as well as some rich nations, have relied heavily on SII for supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but last month New Delhi put the brakes on exports to prioritise domestic needs.