Dr Khan examines what we know so far about the new variant.
India has reported a record 168,912 COVID-19 infections overnight, data from the health ministry showed, overtaking Brazil to become the second-most affected country globally by the coronavirus.
Deaths in India stood at 904, taking the total to 170,179, data showed on Monday.
India’s overall tally reached 13.53 million, while John Hopkins University put the total number of cases in Brazil at 13.48 million. The United States leads the global tally with 31.2 million cases.
India has recorded more than 873,000 cases in the last seven days – an increase of 70 percent compared to the previous week, according to data compiled by AFP news agency.
In comparison, Brazil recorded just over 497,000 cases with an increasing trend of 10 percent from the previous week. The US reported just under 490,000 cases with a rising trend of nine percent.
India had surpassed Brazil in September last year to become the second-most affected country in the world by cases, but it slipped to third place after seeing a decline in cases until January this year.
‘Whole country has been complacent’
The world’s second-most populous country has experienced a sharp rise in cases after several weeks of religious festivals, campaign rallies and lax mask-wearing.
While regional elections are under way in several states, tens of thousands of people have also gathered in northern Uttarakhand state for the Kumbh Mela or Pitcher Festival, a Hindu religious pilgrimage.
“The whole country has been complacent – we allowed social, religious and political congregations,” Rajib Dasgupta, professor at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, told AFP. “No one queued up (for social distancing) anymore.”
The spike in India, after daily rises in cases fell below 9,000 in early February, has seen many badly affected states and territories impose restrictions on movement and activities.
The federal government is desperate to avoid a hugely unpopular second lockdown to protect the already devastated economy.
But many states are tightening the screws.
In worst-hit Maharashtra and its capital Mumbai, restaurants are shut and public gatherings of more than five people banned after the state last week imposed a weekend lockdown and night curfew.
Maharashtra has also warned that a complete lockdown could be imposed within the next few days as cases continue to rise.
“The solution is for everyone to stay home for two months and end this (pandemic) once and for all. But the public doesn’t listen,” said Rohit, 28, a waiter at a popular Mumbai restaurant who moved to the financial hub for work from the northern state of Punjab.
“Nobody follows the rules in the restaurant… If we tell customers to wear masks, they are rude and disrespectful to us.”
The chief minister of Delhi state, where a night curfew is in place, on Sunday said 65 percent of new COVID-19 patients were less than 45 years old.
His government was not in favour of a lockdown, but said it would consider imposing one if hospital beds start running out.
India’s health ministry said the surge has led to a “spike in demand” for the antiviral drug remdesivir, forcing the ban on its export despite a World Health Organization-backed study saying it has “little or no effect” on COVID-19 mortality.
Concerns over the side effects and effectiveness of tested and approved vaccines continue to rattle nerves elsewhere.