India continues reporting over 200,000 daily cases, but Australia and New Zealand open quarantine-free ‘travel bubble’.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has faced a backlash on social media over his response to surging coronavirus cases, with users criticising his decision to address tens of thousands of people at state election rallies and letting Hindu devotees congregate for a festival.
India is currently recording more new cases of coronavirus than any other country. As of Sunday, the seven-day average for new daily infections was 219,000, according to Our World in Data. This week India is expected to rise above the high tide of the epidemic seen in the United States, when daily new cases peaked at nearly 300,000 in early January.
India has recorded more than 15 million cases while deaths have risen to nearly 179,000.
Tags including #ResignModi and #SuperSpreaderModi have trended on Twitter in the past two days, as desperate cries for hospital beds, medical oxygen and coronavirus tests flooded social media.
Having swept to power in 2014 with the biggest single-party majority in decades, Modi is unused to such public roasting.
The economy has struggled to recover following a months-long lockdown last year and the country’s second wave of the coronavirus epidemic is proving deadlier than the first.
‘Guard let down’
Modi and his ministers have campaigned heavily ahead of state elections in West Bengal, where opinion polls showed the prime minister’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was in a tight race with a regional party that rules the state.
“I think the guard was let down by Indians, but also by Indian leaders,” Pallava Bagla, a science journalist, told Al Jazeera.
“Massive elections rallies were held, and subsequently … Hindu festivals are all contributing to this massive surge,” he added.
The eight-phase voting in West Bengal ends on April 29.
A government spokesman did not respond to queries from Reuters news agency on the latest criticism of Modi. But Piyush Goyal, the minister for railways, commerce and industry, told Reuters’ television partner ANI that Modi was working many hours a day to manage the crisis.
On Saturday, Modi asked religious leaders to only symbolically celebrate a festival known as Kumbh Mela, after tens of thousands of Hindu devotees gathered daily in close proximity to immerse themselves in the Ganges.
But that was on the seventeenth day of the festival scheduled to run until the end of April, and it is yet to be officially called off despite authorities detecting hundreds of infections among participants who had poured in from across the country.
Though it is not a force in the state, the main national opposition Congress party on Sunday called off election rallies in Bengal.
In view of the Covid situation, I am suspending all my public rallies in West Bengal.
I would advise all political leaders to think deeply about the consequences of holding large public rallies under the current circumstances.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) April 18, 2021
“In view of the COVID-19 situation, I am suspending all my public rallies in West Bengal,” former Congress Party President Rahul Gandhi posted on Twitter, encouraging others to do the same.
However, the BJP has insisted on its candidates’ “constitutional right” to campaign for at least 14 days.
COVID-19 cases in Bengal, meanwhile, have quadrupled since the start of April, and at least three election contestants have died.